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Monday, February 2, 2009

Hearing begins for teacher in Alex Barton case

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Teacher Wendy Portillo's attorney said Monday his client admits to making a lapse in judgment, but thinks the loss of an exemplary career is far too great a penalty.
Portillo is appealing her one-year unpaid suspension she got in November for allegedly holding a class poll to see whether then-5-year-old Alex Barton could stay in class. Alex was being tested for a type of autism at the time.
St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent Michael Lannon testified briefly before the lunch break that he considered firing Portillo for the incident, but took into account her 12-year career in the district.
“The younger the child, the more this issue becomes an impressionable one. The learning environment was broken in this particular action,” Lannon said.
Sue Ranew, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district, said she and Lannon had lost respect and confidence for Portillo, along with other students, parents and members of the community. She said parents had requested their children not be placed in Portillo's classroom should Portillo be returned to class.
The hearing is expected to take several days to conclude. Both Lannon and Ranew said they believe Portillo violated the code of ethics several times because of the incident.
“The incident of May 21 was very egregious on the part of Ms. Portillo,” Ranew said. “The amount of notoriety has reduced her effectiveness as an educator in the classroom at this time.”

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