Teacher Puts Desk of Boy with Autism in Bathroom Stall to Give Him a ‘Quiet Place’ to Do Work

A Washington-state mom is outraged after she found out her 11-year-old son, who has special needs, had his desk put inside a bathroom so he could study there in peace.

The boy’s mom, Danielle Goodwin, told KOMO News that son Lucas has autism and learns better in a quiet place, and his teacher at Whatcom Middle School in Bellingham was aware of that.

On Facebook, Danielle uploaded a photo of the teacher’s “solution,” and called it an “inhumane suggestion.”

As you can see, the desk was set up directly on top of a toilet. In the post, which has racked up 15,000 likes and over 6,500 comments since September 19, the mom also wrote that Lucas’s teacher gave him a camping mat and pillow for him to nap on the bathroom floor.

Unfortunately, there’s another detail to this story that makes it even more upsetting. Lucas also has PANDAS, short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, might be caused by an autoimmune response to strep bacteria. “That’s not an appropriate place for anyone,” Danielle said, “but especially for Lucas, who with his PANDAS condition, can’t really be around germs. That’s something that can really affect his body,” she told KOMO News. “It smelled and just the thought of my son working his school day away in a bathroom was disturbing to me.”

But even when she tried to get her son a better place to study, the teacher still wouldn’t budge. “I asked if he could work in the library and she said no,” Danielle wrote. “She also said it was fine for him to be in there because they ‘don’t use it as a bathroom.’” The bathroom was fully functioning according to KOMO News.

The boy told KOMO News that he felt sad and embarrassed when he found out where his teacher planned to have him study. “I was like, how is this happening? How am I in the bathroom? Why?” He also questioned why his teacher would think that placing him there would be a good idea. “‘Oh yeah, we’ll just put him in the bathroom, perfect space,’” Lucas said sarcastically. “That’s not OK. You don’t do that.”

On Facebook, Danielle wrote that she took Lucas home and he will not be returning to his middle school.

After the incident started gaining media traction, the school’s principal Jeff Coulter and superintendent Greg Baker each posted updates on the school’s website. Greg wrote in his post:

“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. 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.”

There is a big difference between using staff lounges as classrooms, and setting up a desk for a child over a toilet. But the superintendent went on to say that “my preliminary assessment is this idea was well-intentioned, but in the end we did not move forward with it.”

Danielle’s main concern, however, still goes unanswered. As the last line in her Facebook post goes, “How is this best practice? How is this OK? We must do better.”