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Teacher Who Soaked Autistic Kids’ Crayons in Hot Sauce Gets Her Job Back

Teacher Who Soaked Autistic Kids’ Crayons in Hot Sauce Gets Her Job Back

Florida teacher Lillian Gomez, who was fired last year for soaking crayons in hot sauce and then placing them in a bag labeled with the name of an autistic student, has been reinstated by the Kissimmee school district that had fired her in February 2012. A judge has ordered that Gomez be rehired on the grounds that, as an administrative law judge ruled in August, there was no evidence that she had been trying to punish the student.

The administrative judge did say that Gomez had acted inappropriately. Parents whose children attend Sunrise Elementary School where Gomez was formerly employed have certainly not been pleased to hear that she will again be working for their school district.

The parents of the autistic student who Gomez gave the hot sauce to have expressed shock at her rehiring. As Jose Holguin said to ABC News’ Orlando affiliate, WFTV, ”She proved already that she’s a danger inside a classroom. What else can she do to prove to the system that she doesn’t have it?”

Another parent, Todd Cinetti, commented that the rehiring of Gomez is simply “kind of ridiculous” and asked whether she ought to be working with children at all.

The Kissimmee school district did not want to reinstate Gomez and has spent more than $50,000 in attorney’s fees on the case, claiming that her “effectiveness” in the classroom had been “severely impaired” as a result of the hot sauce and crayons incident. Gomez will not return to Sunrise Elementary School but will be employed at another elementary school in the district to “support other teachers” and could still come into contact with students with disabilities.

“We don’t want to come out and say anything bad about the teacher or say anything to worry parents,” school district spokeswoman Dana Schafer said.

As Holguin’s and Cinetti’s comments suggest, parents are more than a little worried and with good reason.  At issue is not whether Gomez was seeking to punish a student or not but her use of frankly inhumane techniques to address challenging behaviors that autistic children might have.

Gomez has said that she was not trying to force the students eat the crayons. She had soaked them (apparently for days) in the hot sauce to get the children to stop eating them. It is not uncommon for an autistic child to have a condition called pica, in which he or she eats non-edible items such as dirt, paint, sand or paper (my own son used to eat the latter). As the Autism Society points out, eating such things can definitely be dangerous and could “cause choking, digestive problems, parasitic infections and illness.” By giving autistic children access to crayons that had been placed in hot sauce, Gomez was endangering their health.

Pica occurs in about 30 percent of autistic children and there are ways to address it, by “pica-proofing” environments that autistic children are in, teaching them to recognize what is a food and what is a non-food and understanding the sensory sensitivities reasons that might lead a child to attempt to eat something like sand.

The “method” — not that it deserves to be called that — which Gomez used to address the students’ pica was simply inappropriate. The Kissimmee school district also bears responsibility: given the seriousness and commonness of pica, school staff need to have educational strategies — which do exist — to address it.

As a recent report about New York city schools calling ambulances and sending students with disabilities to emergency rooms suggests, many school districts are simply ill equipped and  unsure about how to address students’ challenging behavior issues. There are ways to address such, but schools need to be proactive and put strategies in place and provide teachers with support and training. If a teacher thinks that hot sauce is  a way to address a child!’s challenges, the educators all need to get reeducated.

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133 comments

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5:13PM PST on Mar 3, 2014

I feel sorry for any kids whom she comes in contact with!!

8:19PM PST on Jan 1, 2014

these incidents of teachers bullying students (especially disabled students) is disgusting!

4:18AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

She should never be allowed to be in a classroom again. This is shameful!

3:48AM PST on Dec 25, 2013

shocking

8:48AM PST on Dec 23, 2013

While her intentions may not have been to punish or harm....it does show she is NOT educated enough to be teaching children. She should be made to take some classes before she is allowed back in a school. At the very least.

8:02AM PST on Dec 23, 2013

It seems to me that the judgement was correct, the teacher didn't apparently set out to hurt the children. Personally I would be concerned about leaving a vulnerable child alone with someone who's judgement was clearly so questionable.

12:55PM PST on Dec 22, 2013

The hysteria in some comments is unwarranted. The teacher was addressing a serious health issue in a creative but inappropriate way. The fault is in the district's not having a policy nor training to address pica. We (former) thumb suckers had all sorts of pediatrician-sanctioned gunk painted on our beloved digit, from iodine to something vile and peppery, to deter the habit. BTW, some educators I know have used the (mild) hot sauce method, with parental approval, with positive results. So folks, chill a bit.

8:24AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

it cut my comment off. I was adding that my daughter was eatting the hottest sauces out (as her father loved them) from the age of around 7-9mths old.. she enjoyed them too. (so its hard for me to see these as being more harmful then allowing the child to put things in their mouth posing a dangerous choking risk).

8:20AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

I feel sorry for the teacher as it appears she did this thinking it would also help the student by stopping him/her from eatting crayons.

I do think that this teacher should never done this to anothers child without parental consent but maybe Im naive but can a child putting something in his own month which has hot sauce on it (its not like someone else placing a spoonful of it in his mouth) is it really that dangerous? I think its probably more dangerous for a child to always have things in thier mouth that they can accidently swallow, be it stones, coins, erasers or crayons

As a person who had an Aspergers child (she's grown up), I also disagree with this article. It talks about "pica proofing" these children by teaching them that the objects arent food. Well I can say that my daughter in which EVERYTHING went into her mouth, was well aware the things she put in her mouth werent food so knowing that the objects arent food doesnt necessarily stop this. She did it just for the sake that she liked the sensation of having things in her mouth.

I was constantly getting out rocks, coins and erasers out of her mouth when she came home from school. I was always worried she'd end up choking on something esp when she arrived home with a mouth fall of rocks. If I could of put hot sauce on something just once to stop her from doing that, it would of been safer for her. (thou my daughter something like that wouldnt have worked, her father used to give her the hottest

12:38AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

Unbelievable. :(

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