STEVENS POINT, Wis. (Stevens Point Journal) — A special-education teacher who gave her students a graduation gift basket that included a toilet bowl brush and cleanser will not be disciplined by the school district,though at least one parent is calling for the teacher to be fired.
Lisa Kingsbury is the mother of Alyssa Alvarado, who graduated from Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH) last Sunday. She thinks the district should terminate the teacher, Sue Felder, saying the gifts Felder gave her students were inappropriate.
Felder is a teacher in the district Life Skills Center program where students with cognitive disabilities are taught skills such as cooking and cleaning. Kingsbury said her daughter was puzzled by the gift of a toilet brush and cleanser, and when her daughter asked Felder why she had given it, Felder told her that she would need the tools to scrub toilets in the future.
Kingsbury said she called the district to complain and was contacted by Sarah Newberry, a school psychologist at SPASH. Kingsbury said she was told by Newberry that the gifts were not meant to demean her daughter, but Kingsbury remains unsatisfied with that explanation and has attempted to contact the district since then without success.
"I'm surprised nothing has been done," said Kingsbury, who said she has filed a complaint against the district with the Office for Civil Rights, an agency of the U.S. Department of Education.
Attempts to contact Felder on Friday were unsuccessful.
In a statement released Friday morning, the district says the brush and cleanser were mean to "reinforce the independent living skills and other gains that students had made during their time in the program." The gift baskets, which were purchased with Felder's own money, also included a picture frame and a card.
The statement goes on to say the district "regrets causing any offense and is committed to ensuring that this type of situation does not occur again," and that Life Skills Center students will be given gifts "appropriate for graduation from high school" in the future.
Superintendent Attila Weninger said in a separate statement that after reviewing the facts of the situation, the district "does not find it appropriate to issue disciplinary action against the staff member."
Another parent whose children received 'living skills' gifts from Felder defended the teacher on Friday. According to Karen Rahm, Felder has been giving out baskets like these for years and Rahm hasn't been aware of a complaint about them. Rahm had two sons with autism graduate from SPASH.
Levi, who graduated in 2007, received the same gift of a basket with the toilet brush and cleaner in it. Isaac, who graduated in 2013, did not receive the gift because he has a more severe type of autism, cannot communicate verbally, and needs regular supervision.
"I remember getting the basket and telling Levi: 'Good, put it in the second bathroom and we'll use it when we need it,'" Rahm said.
Rahm said she did not have any concern about the gift, and that when she asked Levi about it Friday he was not offended by the gesture. Rahm also praised Felder for her work in preparing students for live on their own.
"She always stressed to the kids that some day you are going to grow up and not live at home, so you need to be ready," Rahm said. "She helps prepare those students for situations they are going to face in real life."
Kingsbury said her daughter has been in the district for six years since they moved to Stevens Point from Texas, and had no problems before her daughter started with the Life Skills Center program this year.
Kingsbury said that her daughter has the option as a disabled student to continue at SPASH until she is 21 years old, but will not be returning.
"If I felt there some benefit for her education-wise I would send her, but I've been disappointed with the program all year," Kingsbury said.