Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Morningside Elementary, St. Lucie School Board, Stop the Hate

In September 1957, after a federal court had ordered racial desegregation of the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, an angry white mob surrounded Little Rock High School in an attempt to prevent nine African-American students from entering the building. When Arkansas officials failed to restore order, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to protect the students, who came to be known as the Little Rock Nine. While attending the school, the students faced vicious bullying not only from racist classmates, but also from some teachers and other school employees. One of the students, Melba Pattillo Beals, later wrote a harrowing memoir entitled Warriors Don't Cry.

While this may seem like ancient history and something that could never happen again, even now in the 21st century some families with autistic children are enduring bullying and harassment from bigots who want to segregate their children. Melissa Barton, who successfully brought a complaint that resulted in the suspension of the teacher who incited a group of kindergartners to vote her son out of class, has faced ugly retaliation as a result of defending her son. Her children also have been attacked by haters. I have reposted an open letter from Ms. Barton along with her appeal to the school board and superintendent for decency, proper enforcement of the law, and respect for her family's civil rights:

I am not sending this to you so that you may have sympathy for our family but be aware of what retaliation comes with defending your child. If this is happening to you as well, do not fear. A wise friend once told me: Wishing you a day without retaliatory behavior, if that is possible. One of my inspirational quotes from Gandhi to you: First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Next, they fight you. Finally, you win.

Since my defending Alex our family has been bullied beyond anything I could have ever imagined. The bullies are not children but their parents, teachers, law enforcement and a Vice Principal.

As I write this to you I almost do not know where to begin. First, my son Kyle who is ten is in the gifted program at the very school that treated Alex so cruelly. This is the only gifted program in my area so I have no other choice.

In the beginning of the year I received a letter from the principal of the school warning me to leave. Within a few days my ten year old had been pushed physically by the Vice Principal of the school right in front of me! The police said that there was nothing that they could do, then it happened again.......still nothing. Later, Kyle, my ten year old had been given grades that were not accurate after a letter from my attorney they improved within days ten points or more. In January, I received a notice from the school that they were pursuing a truancy case against me for Kyle who had only missed five days of school all with notes. The truancy officer was shocked to find that the school wasted her time and mine. During all of this I have been fighting for a IEP for Alex and battling the district for a FAPE under IDEA Law - still not one service to date - In February, Wendy Portillo decided to appeal her punishment as a teacher by the district : http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2009/jan/29/alex-barton-teachers-suspension-appeal-be-heard-mo/ The very night the above article came out in our local news, I received six hang up phone calls from the school number.

At the appeal for Wendy Portillo, teachers from Morningside heckled me and my oldest child infront of media. One teacher in particular seemed like he had mental issues and a breakdown was taking place in the parking lot of the appeal building. When I phoned police to speak to the School Resource Officer Division, I was treated very poorly and told that it was not their liability to protect my son at school.

I can handle the snares from teachers, staff and parents at the school. I can handle letters to our local news paper from parents at the school with nasty comments. I can handle calling the school and being hung up on nearly every time I call to speak about my son Kyle's education. But I have to draw the line somewhere:
Last Friday http://www.cbs12.com/news/barton-4717586-says-school.html

When I called the SRO to the school about the incident, she wrote a police report that was bias and claimed that there was nothing that could be done. She did not even question the other mother until late in the day as she felt it best to wait until she got off of work. In the report the SRO writes that I did not appear to be pregnant, although I am clearly six months along. The woman was never questioned about stalking me as she said she had been.

We have had police officers drive to our home and run the plate of visitors for no apparent reason. I have been followed by these same officers to and from the school every day. The SRO's Sargent referred to me as a con artist to a dear friend of mine and the list goes on and on.

But, it hasn't even gotten bad yet. Yesterday, I was forced to send the following email to the school board, and superintendent:

Mr Lannon, Mrs Renew and members of the board:

My name is Melissa Barton,

The reason I am contacting you today is a serious issue.

My oldest child Kyle Barton is a 4th grader at Morningside in the gifted program as it is the only one in my zone. From the beginning of this year there have been miscellaneous incidents with staff members at Morningside Elementary directed at my son Kyle due to a separate ongoing issue with my other son from members of Morningside and now parents of the school.

Recently a parent came up to me and told me that she had been following me. She also made threats to harm me and my unborn child on school property with no consequence to her. SEE: http://www.cbs12.com/news/barton-4717586-says-school.html

Today, I went to pick up Kyle from school as I do everyday, with my younger son in tow. When I arrived at Morningside I immediately was approached by a woman holding a picket sign ( I started to snap photos with my cell phone). As we pulled into the parent pickup line where all the children stand to wait to get into their parents cars my young six year old son with autism and I noticed several other possible parents/others holding picketing signs that stated "Our children love Morningside" "We love Morningside" and other like worded things regarding teachers at Morningside. This took place on school property just three feet or less from my son Kyle. One of the picketers heckled my young autistic son as he sat scared in the front seat of my car. My son Kyle got into our car with tears running down his cheeks. We also noticed was several staff members and one volunteer from Morningside standing directly next to the picketers. Of the staff I witnessed ESE Coordinator, Cathy Oliver and Patricia Gascogine, Assistant Principal names are the ones I know. Other staff were camped out just inside the doors of the school watching the protest about our family.

Here are my concerns:

Parents that are strangers were feet away from my son Kyle and other children making remarks about me while your staff stood idly by. Not only was his safety at risk but his mental well being as well. Additionally, these picketers on school grounds were taunting my autistic son as we drove past to get Kyle. These actions will impact my children for years to come.

I sincerely hope you consider this to be a VERY SERIOUS occurrence and take the appropriate measures to make sure it never happens again in your district and to make an example in general of the staff like Mrs. Oliver and Mrs. Gascogine. There is something seriously wrong with the picket being allowed take place while staff stand by and do nothing all on school grounds.

I am sickened, outraged and utterly beyond words. This is not only morally wrong but legally as well.

I expect to be contacted within the next three school days with an apology for my children and what steps you are going to take to discipline the staff involved and prevent those parents involved from coming onto school property for the purpose of bulling, harassment or retaliation.

I hope we can expeditiously come to an agreeable solution.


Melissa Barton

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  • This is disgusting and a sad indictment on society. This is the NT world at work, people. This is what Autistic Rights is all about, fighting this disgusting and reprehensible behaviour - treating Autistics as less than human.

    Melissa Barton, you are a hero and you should keep fighting. We, the Autistic Community, are right behind you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:24 PM  

  • It's interesting that when you go to the news links provided, there's some pretty ugly comments that appear to be from Morningside parents.

    By Anonymous Doc Righteous, at 7:44 PM  

  • This saddens and sickens me. Thank you for sharing this story; I have shared a link with others via Twitter.

    By Blogger Niksmom, at 8:23 PM  

  • I have a feeling there is a bit of sexism involved in this situation. I can't imagine there would be this reaction if Ms. Barton were a man defending his child. Somehow I doubt people would feel so bold if a man were escorting Kyle. I think because Ms. Barton refuses to be meek and quiet, she is suffering from a sexist reactionary force in St. Lucie. Where is the father and why is she having to fight this alone? Kudo's to Ms. Barton, a modern day Rosa Parks for her children.

    By Anonymous Kent Adams, at 10:34 PM  

  • I have never understood why any parent has supported the actions of Wendy Portillo. Ms. Barton certainly should be outraged; her son was made the center of an inappropriate exercise in humiliation.

    How much more outraged those other parents ought to be. Are they really that ignorant of what this person was teaching their children? Do they really think that this was a method their children should be emulating?

    If those other parents are so convinced of Ms. Portillo's position, why aren't those other class parents picketing the school board about poorly supported teachers, poorly handled special education, and the prolonged timeline for getting this child properly assessed, eligible, categorized, and serviced? After all, until that is done, the school has no obligation to remove him from the classroom- he's just another student in the public system!

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 11:11 PM  

  • I kinda loling at the comments saying. "UR NOT A TEECHR U DUN'T GET IT?!"

    As former preschool teaching assitant I have to raise my eyebrows at this response. I've been around a lot of disruptive students.

    And what is "disruptive." I keep hearing that word and I keep wondering in what context. I've handled a child who is 'disruptive'. T had fasination with lying blocks in horizonal row, he got agitated when children took those blocks. One child L often provoked him and he retaliated. In some context I belive T might be on the spectrum. I've noticed a lot of his symtoms but I don't have right to voice my opinion to his mother.

    So what is disruptive? Was Alex bullied and responded? Was he behaving in an autisic fashion with route behaviors and fixating is that distruptive?

    Why is ethical for the teacher who supposedly had training in Special ED to emotionally tramatize a child and have his peers reject him? And have other parents and adults, "She did the best she could" Wh-what?

    Why is the autist suddenly looked upon as a "problem"?

    What happen to basic ethics that all sapien minded begins should have regardless of neurology?


    By Blogger Bard, at 12:07 AM  

  • It appears that an important element of this thoroughly shameful situation is the lack of choices of schools for parents of gifted children, a situation that happens in Australia as well as in the US.

    I guess if Mrs Barton didn't have to send her older son to this vile school staffed by some unbelieveably unprofessional teachers and staff, then she would be able to simply look around for a better place (if one existed), wave a cheery goodbye to this LOSER of a school and later bad-mouth it to anyone who will listen. That's what I've done in the past when confronted with the reality that my kids were going to a seriously dud school.

    I don't know what things are like in the US, but in Australia academic entry requrements for primary school teaching courses have been laughably low, and unqualified child care centre workers are paid less than car-park attendants. Why do we allow such low standards and low rewards for the people who look after our kids? Pay peanuts and get monkeys.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 10:54 AM  

  • All love to you. I am currently handling several similar cases in the UK.

    It's not easy to handle. I do this pro bono negotiating work as part of our free-to-parents website, here. I appear in court for the parents, and get nowhere. You kick up, you are recognised as a troublemaker to education. Seen it a million times.

    I have a case right now in the UK where an 18-year old AS has been out of school since he was 13. All he can do, right now, is to be educated behind his closed bedroom door, and that's what they did to him, and the battle isn't over yet.

    Can you home educate? That's a route taken by so many parents who contact me. It's hard, and the last resort, but it can sometimes stop these impossible confrontations.

    I really feel for you. I wish you success.

    But ultimately, you have to save your children, and protect them against this attack on who they really are.

    With all my hope and best wishes.

    Please check out all home-educating websites for help.


    If you want further help, come back to me.

    By Blogger Barbara, at 6:07 PM  

  • Lili, the reason why the public education system in Australia is up the creek right now is because the federal government Under Howard) neglected it through supporting the private system. It needs more money.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:51 PM  

  • Timelord and Lili, our system is probably much worse than Australia's

    By Blogger A better future for all, at 9:01 PM  

  • I am sorry that you have to go through this. Thank you for sharing this with us. Shame on them. Can you move?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:25 PM  

  • "I kinda loling at the comments saying. "UR NOT A TEECHR U DUN'T GET IT?!" "

    Hey Nightstorm, where was this flaming stupid comment? Not at the link in the letter ABFH quoted.

    By Blogger Scratcher, at 12:22 AM  

  • @Scratcher

    it's in the orginal artical that abfh linked. It's obviously a not excact quote but it's the entire tone of the comments.

    By Blogger Bard, at 9:21 AM  

  • Wow. That is just... there are no words.

    By Anonymous sanabituranima, at 4:58 PM  

  • Which link? Sorry Nightstorm but the links I looked at didn't have that variety of junk.

    By Blogger Scratcher, at 12:50 AM  

  • Why the hell hasn't she just pulled her kids out of school? That school is obviously not a safe environment for any of her family. She should take the kids out and homeschool them until the family can move. I suppose there may be circumstances making this impossible for her, though.

    By Blogger kisekileia, at 2:53 PM  

  • She shouldn't HAVE to take her kids out of school. They aren't to blame.
    The school should NOT get away with this.

    By Anonymous sanabituranima, at 3:58 PM  

  • Blame the victim.

    Boy am I glad that we don't live in Florida. It has one of the worst school systems in the nation, and some of the most ignorant people.


    By Blogger Club 166, at 12:43 AM  

  • "Why do we allow such low standards and low rewards for the people who look after our kids? Pay peanuts and get monkeys."

    Have to say... yes, it's exactly that; and it happens in Finland, too.

    By the way: re- Dr A. Attwood...

    Full Adjunct Professor at Griffith University, hence quite within his right to be called professor if he so chooses. The university sees his website info as out of date, rather than misleading.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E., at 9:07 AM  

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