A Washington parent requested a quiet learning space for her son with autism. The school responded by cramming his desk in an unused bathroom.

Business Insider Lifestyle 2 months ago

A mother in Bellingham, Washington, is demanding an apology and answers after officials at her middle school jammed her autistic child's desk into one of the school's bathroom stalls.

The mother, Danielle Goodwin, told Komo News that she'd previously discussed making special arrangements for her son to have a quiet working space with one of the Whatcom Middle School teachers. Lucas Goodwin, 11, has a form of autism that's exacerbated by loud noises. The meeting appeared to have gone well, until the following Monday when she went to visit the new desk space.

"I was stunned," Danielle Goodwin said in an interview with Komo News. "I was so shocked I just took the picture because I didn't believe what I was seeing."

Lucas told Komo News he was shocked and confused when shown his new seating arrangement. "How am I in the bathroom?" Lucas remembers thinking. "Why?"

The desk hovered just a few feet above a working toilet.

Goodwin told Komo News that Lucas also has an autoimmune disorder. She worried the desk's placement in the bathroom could pose a significant risk to her son's health.

"It smelled and just the thought of my son working his school day away in the bathroom was disturbing to me," Goodwin said.

'My son was humiliated, embarrassed, and disgusted'

Goodwin shared a photo of the bathroom desk on Facebook September 19, where it went viral with more than 15,000 reactions. She also alleged in the post that the school had left Lucas a camping mat and pillow so he could nap on the bathroom floor.

"My son was humiliated, embarrassed, and disgusted at this inhumane suggestion that he work in a bathroom," she wrote on Facebook, adding that Lucas was "throwing up from anxiety" when he returned home.

In a statement provided to Q13 News, the school district said the desk has since been removed from the bathroom.

With parents demanding answers, Bellingham Public Schools' superintendent Greg Baker released a statement late last week saying the bathroom was not "an active restroom," and was used primarily for storage. Baker also placed part of the blame on a lack of school funding.

"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," Baker wrote. The superintendent went on to say he saw the decision to move Lucas' desk above a toilet as well-intentioned.

"This current situation is an example of staff trying to seek a solution to temporarily repurpose a room," Baker wrote, adding, "My preliminary assessment is this idea was well-intentioned, but in the end we did not move forward with it."

The family has hired a lawyer and is demanding an apology

Regardless of the intent, the end result left Goodwin and her son feeling humiliated.

Goodwin said it was not enough that the school district had removed the desk from the bathroom.

"Great that they removed the desk, but that doesn't help my son's self-esteem, his embarrassment," Goodwin told Q13 News. The mother said she decided to post the incident on social media and share her experience in order to warn other parents.

CNN reported the family has hired an attorney Shannon McMinimee and are in the initial stages of filing a lawsuit against the school district.

McMinimee told CNN that Lucas had just transferred from another school where he was regularly provided quiet working space in the library. McMinimee also asked that someone from the school publicly apologize and said the case was one of the strangest things she'd seen in her 15 years of working in education law.

The school district confirmed with Insider that the desk has since been removed from the bathroom but declined to comment further citing federal student privacy laws.

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A school district in Washington state is facing criticism for putting an autistic student's desk in a bathroom stall after his mother said he needed a "quiet place" to do his best work.
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