Alex Barton's teacher tells her side - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Alex Barton's teacher tells her side

By Jana Eschbach email
Posted by Rachel Leigh email

FORT PIERCE, FL (WFLX) - Teacher Wendy Portillo takes the stand to break the silence after months of hate mail and even illness from the fallout.

"It was not my intent to hurt him or anyone in that class at all."

Portillo testified, yes, 5-year-old Alex Barton was acting up. "What I witnessed in the classroom with Alex being under the table was - under the table pushing it up with his legs and being disruptive to the students, their work was being scattered on the floor."

Yes, she sent him to the office and had the students come sit in the front of the room to talk. "I felt that I needed to talk with them about what they had seen, so I gathered them to our meeting area, and we sat down, and I tried to explain to them."

And, yes, when he came back she and the students told Alex how his kicking and eating crayons disrupted the class. "I said, 'Why are you here?' And, he said, 'she sent me back'. And I said, 'Who is she?' And, he said, 'the principal'. And, I said, 'I don't know if we are ready to have you back at this time.'"

The students commented on his outbursts saying he wiped "boogers on them" and ate crayons.

"I turned to him and said, 'Listen to what your peers are saying about you. How does that make you feel?' And he didn't say anything. Again, I said, 'I don't think we are ready for you to come back at this time.'"

Portillo retold the events of the day in May that stirred up controversy in the autism community and worldwide.

"I don't think we are ready for you to come back at this time."

Portillo told Alex, "So, I said, let's take a poll. One of the students said what is a poll? I said, 'It is like a vote'. It was just yes or no."

Portillo said she put slash marks on the board in sets of five and had the students count their vote.

"Ok, 5-10, and they counted 11,12. And, it turned out, it was 14 to 2. And, I said, 'Alex, we are sorry we are not ready for you at this time." Alex was voted out, sent back to the Principal's office.

But Alex's behavior is common among children like him with Asberger's, a form of Autism. "I thought it was an opportunity to show my students there are consequences for actions and to show empathy and understand that what they do affects others," Portillo said.

The district suspended Portillo for her actions for one year banning her from ever working with elementary students ever again.

The district said Portillo brought worldwide scrutiny to the district, and she embarrassed a student with special needs. This hearing is to appeal her punishment.

"Absolutely not. I would not do it again. I did not think at that time. I was hurting anyone at that time."

Portillo said, "If I could even take that morning back I would. I, I apologized to Alex's mom that day."

Portillo testified twice she apologized to Alex's family. "Why did you apologize?"

The district's attorney Elizabeth Coke asked in cross-examination. "Because she said to me that I embarrassed her son," Portillo testified.

Not true says Alex's mother, keeping a close watch on the hearing form outside the door."She lied under oath," said mother Melissa Barton. "I asked him how he felt, and, he said, 'I felt bad mommy'. And she slammed her hand down on the table and pointed at him, and said, 'No, you didn't.

"She did not apologize to me. She never apologized to me. Never."

Portillo said this incident with Alex has caused her to get no sleep. "If I did go out to the mall, I would sit next to a plants because I felt like everyone was judging me.

"I actually could not eat or sleep, and I had to go--I was dehydrated and had to be IV induced to keep fluids in me."

Portillo's hearing wrapped up with several character witnesses, and co-workers testifying on her behalf calling her a great educator.

The judge can take up to 30 days to rule on whether to uphold Portillo's one-year suspension and lifetime ban from teaching elementary students in this district.

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