Judge Upholds Alex Barton Teacher's Suspension, Loss of Tenure

April 3, 2009

Last May Wendy Portillo allowed her kindergarten students to vote on whether or not a boy with autism should stay in the class after he exhibited some behavior problems. Subsequently Portillo was suspended from teaching for one year without pay and her tenure was revoked.

Portillo appealed before an administrative law judge in February. On Tuesday the judge decided to uphold the suspension imposed by the school district, affirming that Portillo's actions were in violation of the state's code of ethics for teachers and the school board rules, reports the Scripps Florida Treasure Coast Newspapers.



By Colleen Wixon, TC Palm.com

ST. LUCIE COUNTY - The teacher who orchestrated a vote to oust 5-year-old Alex Barton from his kindergarten classroom lost her appeal for reinstatement.

Administrative law judge Claude Arrington upheld the St. Lucie School Board's decision to suspend Wendy Portillo for a year without pay and remove her tenure.

Schools Superintendent Michael Lannon said he had not yet read the order and declined to comment.

Portillo's attorney, David Walker of Stuart, also said he had no comment.

The school district proved Portillo violated the state's code of ethics for teachers and school board rules in the May 21 incident. In the incident, she asked students to say whether Alex should be in the classroom while she tallied the votes on a board, Arrington said in his order.

Watch video
Watch video of the child's mother reacting to the decision.
Alex was in the process of being diagnosed with a type of high-functioning autism. His mother, Melissa Barton, did not testify at the hearing. But because she was listed as a potential witness, she was not allowed to hear most of the testimony.

"It's a step in the right direction," Barton said of the judge's order. Barton hoped Portillo would be fired.

"At least there will be some sort of punishment," she said.

The judge sided with the district's assertion that Portillo exposed Alex and the other students to "unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement" and used an inappropriate method of discipline. She also failed to exercise the best professional judgment and failed to make a reasonable effort to protect Alex from harassment, he wrote in the order.

Arrington said in his order that, except for last year's incident, Portillo was a dedicated and excellent teacher over her 12-year career in St. Lucie County. Many of Morningside's teachers and parents support her and her reputation remains intact despite the negative publicity of the voting incident, the judge wrote.

"There can be little doubt that (Portillo) has been traumatized by the negative reactions to her misconduct. (Portillo) and her family have suffered economically as a result of her suspension," Arrington wrote in the order.