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Graduation gift from teacher to student upsets family

by
Stevens Point Area School District
Stevens Point Area School District

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) -- A recent graduation gift from a teacher to a student has led to an upset family and a school apology. This involves a Stevens Point Area High School student who participated in the district’s Life Skills Center program, where students with cognitive disabilities learn things many of us take for granted, like cooking, housekeeping, cleaning, and how to utilize public transportation.

Lisa Kingsbury is the mother of graduate Alyssa Alvarado, and Kingsbury was offended by some items in the gift bag.  “It contained a picture frame, 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.”

Superintendent Attila Wedinger says teacher Sue Felder chose to give items the graduates could use with no intent to demean the students.  “In our view, we understand that the parent was offended and was upset. We apologize on behalf of the district for that, and moving forward, gifts given to students in the Life Skills Program will be appropriate for graduation from high school and won’t be of the nature that was given out.”

The gift bags given by Felder were purchased with her own money, and not district funds.

Kingsbury says she was contacted by counselor Sarah Newberry, who explained that Felder’s gift was not meant to put down her daughter. Kingsbury was not satisfied with the explanation, and believes Felder should lose her job for what she calls a very insensitive act.  “I would like to see this teacher terminated. That would be the only acceptable action at this point.”

Wedinger says firing Felder is not the answer.  “That would be inappropriate. This does not rise to that level, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Kingsbury says some of the other parents of special needs students were upset, too.

On April 14th, Stevens Point Area Schools disciplined Transportation Manager John Shepard for sending bus drivers a memo referring to special needs students as, “window lickers.” Wedinger says these incidents are not related, and there is not a culture problem in the district.  “Absolutely, there is no culture issue here, in fact, we have a very progressive special education program, and these are two unfortunate incidents that occurred close to one another, but there is no connection to them whatsoever, and there certainly is not that culture in this district. Not at all.”

Kingsbury is still upset, but has not pursued any further action against the school district. Wedinger believes the issue should be resolved with the apology and steps to make sure no such gifts are given again.

You can also listen to our interviews with Lisa Kingsbury and Attila Wendinger on our webpage by clicking the hyperlinks on their names.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM STEVENS POINT SCHOOL DISTRICT:

"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 is type of situation does not occur again."

STEVENS POINT AREA SCHOOLS- 5/29/14

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