After PSL autistic boy's case, Attorney General weighing more complaints from parents
TALLAHASSEE — Stemming from its investigation into a Port St. Lucie autistic boy voted out of kindergarten, the state Office of the Attorney General is looking at how children with autism are treated in Florida schools.
"We want to understand this issue on a more global scale," said Sandi Copes, press secretary for the Office of the Attorney General in Tallahassee. "To see if there is an underlying problem."
Since the office's initial investigation into the case of 5-year-old Alex Barton, several people with autistic children have come forward with their own complaints, Copes said.
Parents are expressing frustration their complaints haven't been heard, so the Attorney General's office wants to talk with them to see if there's any way to help, she said. Those discussions could take place in the coming weeks, she said.
The investigation began after Alex told his mother, Melissa Barton, he was voted out of his kindergarten class by his fellow students. Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo told police she wanted Alex to hear from his peers how his behavior affected others. She then took a poll as to whether Alex should be allowed to return to the classroom, according to reports.
Alex lost the vote, 14 to 2.
At the time, he was in the process of being tested for Asperger Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. He since has been diagnosed with the disorder, Barton said.
The St. Lucie County School District continues to investigate the incident.
When the Attorney General's office investigated Alex's situation, Barton mentioned other parents who had contacted her regarding the treatment of their autistic children, Copes said.
Barton said she is glad parents finally have someone paying attention to them.
"Finally, things are getting done," she said. "There is some justice in it."
It's no longer just about Alex, she said.
"There are other children out there that have been waiting (for help) a very long time," she said. "No one has been listening forever."
The Attorney General's office is trying to compile a list of participants to meet and talk about their issues, Copes said. The investigation is statewide and not concentrating on one area in particular, she said.
Meanwhile, Barton said parents are trying to mobilize. She said now is the time for parents with complaints to come forward.
The Office of the Attorney General is interested in talking with parents of children with autism who have concerns about their child's treatment in schools. Parents with concerns can call the citizen services hotline at (866) 966-7226.
July 12, 2008
Calling All Florida Autism Parents
Your AG has taken note of what happened to Alex Barton and wants to hear your stories of mistreatment in Florida schools. Chances are you have a few. Give him a call. (866) 966-7226