Monday, June 22, 2009

FL: Administrators from school involved in autism vote-out reassigned

By By Cara Fitzpatrick The Palm Beach Post

Originally published 02:19 p.m., June 20, 2009
Updated 02:54 p.m., June 20, 2009

PORT ST. LUCIE — The principal and assistant principal at Morningside Elementary, a school in which a teacher last year caused a national controversy by asking her students to vote on whether a boy could return to class, will be reassigned, school officials said Friday.

Principal Marcia Cully and Assistant Principal Patricia Gascoigne will start the coming school year at Fairlawn Elementary, said St. Lucie County School Superintendent Michael Lannon.
Fairlawn's principal, Susan Lyle, retired at the end of this year. Morningside's new staff has yet to be announced, but parents of Morningside students received an automated phone message this week informing them of the change, Lannon said.

Lannon said the changes were not related to the vote-out incident.

The reassignments come at the end of a difficult year for Morningside. A little more than a year ago, teacher Wendy Portillo asked her students to vote on whether then 5-year-old Alex Barton could remain in class after being sent to the office twice for misbehaving. The students voted 14-2 for him to leave.

The incident attracted an onslaught of attention, drawing email and phone calls from around the world. School officials said they were threatened, as did the Portillo and Barton families.

That Alex was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, and had been under evaluation for it at the time only added to the controversy.

Melissa Barton, who removed her son from public school following the incident, said she was not surprised that the administrators were moved from the school.

Barton is pursuing a lawsuit against the district.

"The fault lies in a lot of different directions in this case," she said.

Portillo was suspended without pay, but will be allowed to return to the classroom in November. Her position, though tenured, will depend on vacancies within the district.

Lannon had recommended a stiffer punishment, which would have moved Portillo back to an annual contract. That recommendation, though upheld at appeal by an administrative judge, was later rejected by the school board, which decided to allow her to keep her continuing contract.

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