National

She says her special needs son needs a quiet place, but a teacher put him in a bathroom

The Bellingham School District is investigating a mother’s complaint that a teacher put her special needs son in an unused bathroom at Whatcom Middle School as a solution to his need to be in a quiet place.

“Yes, that is my son’s desk over a toilet,” Danielle Goodwin wrote in a Facebook post, which included a photo of the room, on Wednesday night. “She also provided a camping mat and pillow for him to nap ... on the bathroom floor.”

On Friday, Goodwin told The Bellingham Herald that her son, 11-year-old Lucas, is autistic and has a pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcus infections.

He needed and wanted to be in a quiet place to learn because noise over-stimulated him, she said, adding that Lucas also needed to take naps during the day because his autoimmune disorder made him tired.

Lucas was in a class with eight other students and Goodwin thought that he was going to the library to work one-on-one with staff.

But when they showed up for school on Monday — he’s in the sixth grade — they were told he was going to be in the bathroom, which had two chairs and two desks she said, adding that one desk was over the toilet.

“I assume that’s where my son was supposed to be sitting,” she told The Bellingham Herald.

Goodwin, who said she works as a substitute para-educator for the Bellingham School District in Washington state, said her son was “humiliated, embarrassed and disgusted.”

She pulled him out of school that day.

Goodwin said she filed a complaint with the school district.

The Bellingham School District received a complaint Thursday morning, spokeswoman Dana Smith said.

“At this time, it appears that the restroom was set up as a possible separate quiet learning space, but that no student was placed in there,” Smith told The Bellingham Herald.

“The desk has been removed, and staff at the school are aware that the space should not be used for that purpose in the future,” she said.

Greg Baker, superintendent for the school district, addressed the situation Friday in a post on the district’s website.

School officials are in the fact-finding phase, Baker said, and his assessment was based on what he knew at this point.

Limited funding for schools, especially for construction, means they “often have limited space to meet students’ instructional and social-emotional needs,” Baker wrote.

“We are always looking for creative ways to best use our facilities to meet students’ needs. For example, throughout the years, in order to provide full-time kindergarten, we have sometimes converted staff lounges into temporary classrooms and principals’ offices into meeting spaces.”

“This current situation is an example of staff trying to seek a solution to temporarily repurpose a room. To our knowledge, the room had been used as storage, not as an active restroom.”

“It didn’t turn out to be an idea that was used; no students spent time in the repurposed space as part of their school day.”

The superintendent also praised employees.

“Our staff are incredibly skilled, compassionate and dedicated. They give of themselves every day to make our community better by serving all children, no matter what their individual needs are,” Baker wrote.

“Like all of us, including myself, our staff are not perfect. Together we show who we are in situations like this: we take responsibility, we learn and we commit to doing better,” he concluded.

Goodwin’s post on her Facebook page had about 4,600 comments and was shared more than 7,300 times as of Friday afternoon. Most were angry on the family’s behalf and others advocated suing the school district and firing the teacher.

“We are still fact-finding in this situation. If need be, we will take appropriate personnel action,” Smith said of whether the teacher could be disciplined.

She said that while the school district couldn’t “share specific details about our students due to privacy law, we can tell you that keeping our students safe and engaged in learning are our top priorities.”

It’s not the first time she’s filed a complaint with the district. In 2017, Goodwin accused a teacher of sexual misconduct with a child known to her. The Bellingham School District’s internal investigation found no evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
  Comments