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Middle School Defends Putting Autistic Student's Desk in 'Unused' Bathroom

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After discovering a middle school determined a bathroom was the only quiet place for her autistic son to do his schoolwork, a mom’s Facebook post went viral. In response, the school defended its choice, blaming a lack of funding for the decision.

On Wednesday, Danielle Goodwin shared on Facebook how a teacher at Whatcom Middle School in Bellingham, Washington, placed the desk of her autistic middle schooler, Lucas, in a school bathroom. Goodwin told the teacher he worked best in a quiet place, and Goodwin said the teacher’s solution was the bathroom — Lucas’ desk was over the toilet while his chair fit in front of the sink. When Goodwin asked if he could work somewhere else, like the library, the teacher said no.

“My son has special needs and does best in a very quiet place. This was his teacher’s solution…yes, that is my son in a bathroom. Yes, that is my son’s desk over a toilet,” Goodwin wrote, adding:

She also provided a camping mat and pillow for him to nap….on the bathroom floor. I asked if he could work in the library and she said no. She also said it was fine for him to be in there because they ‘don’t use it as a bathroom.’ My son was humiliated, embarrassed, and disgusted at this inhumane suggestion that he work in a bathroom. I immediately took my son home and he will not be returning. When we got home he was throwing up from the anxiety. How is this best practice? How is this ok?

My son has special needs and does best in a very quiet place. This was his teacher's solution…yes, that is my son in a…

Posted by Danielle Goodwin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019

In an interview with Komo News on Thursday, Goodwin also said Lucas lives with an autoimmune disorder, which makes the choice of a bathroom even more troubling.

“It’s not an appropriate place for anyone, but especially for Lucas with his PANDAS condition (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections), he can’t be around germs,” Goodwin said. “That’s something that can really affect his body. It smelled and just the thought of my son working his school day away in a bathroom was disturbing to me.”

Lucas said the school’s decision confused him and did not make him feel very good.

“Sad, stressed, embarrassed,” Lucas Goodwin told Komo. “I was like how is this happening? How am I in the bathroom? Why?”

On Friday, the school defended the decision and said that ultimately putting Lucas’ desk in the bathroom wasn’t a workable solution and they didn’t move forward with the idea. In a statement posted online from Bellingham Public School Superintendent Greg Baker, he also said the space wasn’t used as an active bathroom at the time teachers used the room for a desk and blamed underfunding for the decision.

“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,” Baker wrote. He added:

We are all probably aware that state funding for schools is limited, particularly with regards to construction, and thus schools often have limited space to meet students’ instructional and social-emotional needs. 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.

While Baker said he found the school’s decision to be “well-intentioned,” Goodwin pointed out in her Facebook post that it was not OK to even consider placing her or anyone’s child in a bathroom. She said Lucas would not be going back to the school, and she called on educators to do better for not just students with disabilities, but all students.

“We must do better,” Goodwin wrote.

Header image via Danielle Goodwin’s Facebook page

Originally published: September 22, 2019
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