Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XX: The Inappropriate School District Edition

As the school year comes to a close around most of the nation, I want to offer a heartfelt THANKS to so many educators who pour their hearts and souls into the growth of our remarkable kids.  We parents can never express enough how grateful we are for those earnest, hard-working teachers who make a difference in the lives of our children.

However, this week's "winner" does a great job of clearly displaying that there are some teachers out there who are simply unworthy of working with our students.  Be sure to take your antacids before you read THIS story!

It seems that a teacher in Stevens Point, WI gave her graduating students incredibly insulting and insensitive gifts as they transition out of Stevens Point Area Senior High.  Sue Felder, listed as a Special Education instructor at SPASH, was exposed for her completely inappropriate presents when one parent complained publicly that her daughter was given "...a toilet bowl brush, and a Comet cleanser. I asked my daughter why she got this gift, and she said her teacher told her that she will be scrubbing toilets.”*

 Are you SERIOUS?!

The only thing more outrageous than this gift and the idiotic instructor's pathetic apology is the flaccid response from the school superintendent.  How a district administrator can defend such an employee and their behavior is beyond me.  The district's official response is as follows:

“As part of the Stevens Point Area Public School District’s mission to prepare each student to be successful, the District has in place a Life Skills Center program. This program, which serves students with cognitive disabilities, promotes the learning of independent living and basic work skills.

Recently, a Life Skills Center teacher gave students a congratulatory card and gift basket as graduation gifts. All of the items were purchased with the teacher’s personal funds. Among the items in the gift basket was a brush and some cleaner. The items were included to reinforce the independent living skills and other gains that students had made during their time in the program.

While school staff did not mean for the gift to be offensive, school and District staff understand how parents may be find the gift to be so. For that, school and District staff offer parents their most sincere apology for the situation. Moving forward, students in the Life Skills Center program will be given gifts appropriate for graduation from high school.

The District regrets causing any offense and is committed to ensuring that this type of situation does not occur again.”**
Photo courtesy of Stevens Point City-Times
Understandably, the mother wants the teacher fired.  At the very least, I would say that this instructor belongs nowhere near kids with cognitive, emotional or physical challenges.  Parents like us spend our sons' and daughters' entire formative years trying to bring out their assets, showing the world their value, and developing our kids into contributing members of society.  Then in one fell swoop, an arrogant, foolish instructor like this can undermine everything we have spent a lifetime investing in.

Our kids matter!  They are human beings with the fingerprints of God all over them.  Their Creator has given them infinite value.  Every child wants to know they are accepted, treasured and loved.

Giving a child a gift bag containing a toilet brush with toilet bowl cleaner tells them, You will never amount to anything!

The dismissive nature of the school superintendent demonstrates what a pervasive problem this is in Stevens Point.  When asked by local media about the teacher's employment status, Attila Weninger (Yes, Attila is his real name!) responded that he did not think firing Felder is the answer.  “That would be inappropriate. This does not rise to that level, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”*  In other words, the life of the students receiving such gifts are not WORTH enough to dismiss such an unqualified individual from her post.  How's that for TOLERANCE?  INCLUSION?  EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION?  Such behavior from "professionals" only reinforces wider perceptions that a community like Stevens Point, WI is a "back woods" town.  I, for one, would never want one of my students attending SPASH.

Besides praying for the healing of these students' and their parents' hearts, please also pray for the hearts and minds of the "professionals" in this situation.  This community needs some God-sized help!

If you are further inspired, I would encourage you to respectfully enlighten Superintendent Attila Weneninger, PhD*** as to why such a gift and his response to it are so damaging to our children.  Parents like this mother need our support and wider advocacy.  God calls us to come alongside one another at times such as this, making the world aware that our kids are fearfully and wonderfully made.

For Further Exploration: 
*"Graduation gift from teacher to student upsets family",
**"District Apologizes to Students After Toilet Brushes Handed Out as Gifts", Steven's Point City-Times
***Stevens Point Area Public School District

~ Barb Dittrich


  1. Ma'am, you need to calm your emotions and look at this objectively. My sister scrubs toilets for a living, and I am proud of her. She has overcome many, many obstacles to get to where she is, and I'm not going to insult her accomplishments just because of my own pride.It is entirely possible your daughter was not even the least insulted by this symbol of what she has learned to do in the Life Skills program, at least not until you suggested that she should be. You have to quit looking at it from your level of cognizance and be sure you are looking at it from hers. Much as you love her, you have to face the realiy that she is not functioning with the same ways of thinking as someone in the regular education program--otherwise, why did you allow her to be placed in the program? For many students in programs such as the Life Skills Center, having a job scrubbing toilets is an awesome accomplishment, because it's having a job and being INDEPENDENT. Your outrage is an insult to your child.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      First off, I have to wonder, if you're so proud, why is your comment "Anonymous"? Just sayin'...

      Second, you need to perhaps read this post a little more thoroughly to grasp that this is not my own personal child involved in the story sited.

      Third, context is everything. We can be proud that each of our children works to the best of their God-given ability. Whether it be bagging groceries, serving in the mail room, or writing code for software, doing anything as unto the Lord gives what is being done great worth. However, the way we CELEBRATE those accomplishments demonstrates the value and esteem we place in the individual. I can remember a dear friend getting angry one Christmas that her fiance gave her a kitchen clock as a gift. She felt that it lacked affection and didn't rise to the level of a Christmas present someone would give to a person they truly cherished. The toilet brush & cleanser is no different than my friend's response to the clock.

      Fourth, if a pejorative is used to describe an individual, but that individual does not understand it is an insult, are we not to defend them? There is an entire army of advocates across this nation working to smash the use of the "R" word as a sarcastic, derisive cut. Would you tell them to "calm your emotions" or "your outrage is an insult to your child"?

      I respect your opinion, and I am THRILLED that your sister has a sibling like you who loves her so very much. Nevertheless, we will have to agree to disagree on this one. If this teacher's behavior wounded this teen and her parent, then in my humble opinion, the school district is obligated to both discipline the teacher and give the parent more than just a cold, cursory half-apology.

      Barb Dittrich

  2. This story even made DISABILITY SCOOP!