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School District Defends Teacher In Toilet Brush Incident

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A parent has filed a complaint with federal education officials after a Stevens Point, Wis. special education teacher gave her students toilet cleaning supplies as a graduation gift. (Shutterstock)

A parent has filed a complaint with federal education officials after a Stevens Point, Wis. special education teacher gave her students toilet cleaning supplies as a graduation gift. (Shutterstock)

A special education teacher who gave her students a toilet brush and cleanser as a graduation gift is not facing discipline despite calls from at least one parent that she be fired.

Officials with the Stevens Point Area Public School District in Wisconsin are defending teacher Sue Felder, indicating that the gifts were intended to “reinforce the independent living skills and other gains that students had made during their time in the program,” reports the Stevens Point Journal.

The toilet cleaning supplies were reportedly part of a gift basket that Felder gave her students at a life skills program run by the school district where cooking and cleaning are part of the curriculum.

Lisa Kingsbury, whose daughter was in Felder’s class, has filed a complaint about the matter with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Kingsbury told the newspaper that her daughter was confused by the gift from Felder and said the teacher should be fired for giving a gift that suggests her students will be limited to a future scrubbing toilets.

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Comments (35 Responses)

  1. Lauri Robertson says:

    i guess it depends on how you look at it. I have two university degrees, and have friends with multiple PHD’s, and we all clean our toilets, too! Just one of those yucky jobs that’s got to get done.

  2. J Daniel says:

    That is a strange gift choice, however cleaning toilets is part of my daily life and I have a Master’s degree.
    Sounds like something that you may give to a graduating senior as part of a “get ready for grown up life” gift basket.
    Seems to be taken out of context…and not something that I would ever give as a gift.

  3. Kristen Miller says:

    Oh, wow….nothing like being appreciative of a gift. I am certain this teacher meant no ill will or was suggesting limited aspiration or achievement with this gift; especially, considering it was part of an overall basket of gifts supporting independence. Seems to be an unfortunate example of an unappreciative parent trying to cause problems. Of course, one never knows the whole story; however, on the surface this is just ridiculous.

  4. TRENA D WADE says:

    I HAVE A LITTLE PROBLEM WITH THIS STORY. AND IT ISN’T THE FACT THAT A GIFT BASKET INCLUDED A TOILET BOWL BRUSH AND CLEANER, WERE GRADUATION GIFTS FROM A TEACHER. MOST TEACHERS PROBABLY WOULDN’T GO OUT AND SPEND THEIR OWN MONEY TO GET GRADUATION GIFTS FOR THEIR STUDENTS. BUT THAT THE TOILET BRUSH AND CLEANER WERE THE ONLY ITEMS FROM THE BASKET LISTED. I’M REALLY DISAPPOINTED THAT DISABILITY SCOOP WOULD TELL THIS STORY IN SUCH A “MAINSTREAM JOURNALISM” MANOR. OH THE DRAMA. AS A PERSON WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES I KNOW THAT THERE IS ENOUGH REAL DISCRIMINATION TO FACE OUT THERE EVERY DAY. WE DON’T NEED TO SENTIMENTALIZE THIS ISSUE.

  5. L. Anne says:

    The brush was PART of gift basket from a teacher in a life skills program. What would Ms. Kingsbury like her daughter to clean the toilet with? If your child is not being treated properly, as was the case for the children in a class my son was in, by all means stand up for him/her, but don’t look for insults where there are none. It seems that this teacher was showing her students that she felt they were ready for an independent life. What was deserved was a thank you, not a lawsuit.
    P.S. I am also a college graduate, and the mother of a child with special needs.

  6. Mar S says:

    The article also says she taught cooking. A gift basket with cooking utensils or food items like pasta that can be cooked would have been a better choice.

  7. CC says:

    What does stating what your degree is have anything to do with this? In what way does that make you an expert on feelings of a parent of a child with special needs? You may not feel insulted but a parent of a special needs child does and that should be respected. Put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand that they have been advocating for their child all their life to be accepted and live among society. Imagine what you would feel like if you saw your child receive as a gift from a teacher a toilet brush and cleanser for a graduation gift especially from a special education teacher. What would you have done if it was your special needs child, oh, that’s right people with degrees don’t have special needs children, right…..

  8. Annie says:

    1. I am a parent of a child with autism and 2. I have personally have received a gift like this and 3. I have 3 college degrees and still have to clean toilets.

    And this is an appropriate gift for graduation, wedding, or house warming.

    The parent’s offense is over the top, and this article seems to be trying to create strife for the teacher.

    Not cool media company…The teacher clearly cared. I didn’t get gifts from teachers during any graduation.

  9. Mrs. Karn says:

    For graduating seniors, we give laundry detergent and quarters for doing laundry since they will be more independent now. It sounds like a misunderstanding, not an intentional cruelty.

  10. Mrs. Karn says:

    And I am a parent of daughter with developmental disabilities and a teacher. Many teachers spend their own money to buy graduation gifts, especially those who work closely with a smaller number of students like s.e. or a.i. teachers.

  11. Insulto Naman Yan says:

    I don’t have a masters degree to brag, but I have a child with disability. If my child is a toilet brush & cleanser for a graduation gift, I too will get hurt. How about giving such things during the class year with explanation of the why it’s is being sent to the students… Like a homework. If though as a gift for a graduation? It’ll be somewhat insulting. Also, if say you have a friend with a child who doesn’t have a disability & you were told that the child was being taught housekeeping responsibilities, would you send toilet cleaning stuff for a gift?

  12. Annie_b says:

    In response to the poster who felt mention of other posters was irrelevant, I would like to add that I do not have my degree yet my intellectually disabled daughter is finishing her 2nd Masters, all degrees earned with almost perfect GPAs and while working full time career-related positions. That being said, i wish someone would give her a basket of cleaning supplies that remind her she is not exempt from housekeeping and meal preparation because she seems to feel she is above these necessary chores although they were consistently reinforced in our home. Maybe from someone else she would understand their importance in independent living and teach her children the same.

  13. Seriously Whack says:

    All you people defending this teacher or attacking Disability Scoop ought to be asking yourself one thing – would you EVER give such a ‘gift’ to a graduating student? Would you EVER feel good about receiving such a ‘gift’ for a graduation present? OF COURSE NOT!!! Get real, people!

  14. Terri says:

    Here are some thoughts…..
    What do we give neurotypical students who graduate? Money, itunes gift card, a diploma, a book called -The Places You Will Go. But, we would not give them a toilet brush. It was an infantilizing gift that does not promote the normalization principles that we must to support in special education. I too would side with the parent……….most of us learn to cook and clean and cook AFTER we graduate. You have the next, what, 50 or so years to clean, cook, and housekeep. So sad that people still have a minimization view of the students with intellectual disabilities.

  15. Becky Carr says:

    Definitely a bad choice for a grad gift, but she likely meant that when you graduate, you are facing a world where you will need to do the menial chores as well as the fun/exciting jobs. Life is made up of both. That’s probably what she meant…but it got misconstrued. She probably should have asked herself what she might think if she had been given the contents of the gift basket or try to imagine what the families might think. If she’s stopped to think a little, she probably would have decided that these items would be best left out. Bottom line, she probably meant well…just forgive her and move on.

  16. Vivian Swibel, RN says:

    If it is part of a “Life Skills Program”, why not? My children don’t have disabilities but sometimes I wish I had been more diligent with “life skills” at home. Maybe if I had given them a toilet brush and cleanser for their graduations they may be better at life skills today. I say that the teacher did a great job of reinforcing what they learned in school.

  17. Dan says:

    Not the most appropriate for a positive reinforcement of life skills, however, if she treated ALL students, including typical students, equally, I would not mind. . . if it was a focus on one person, then I might consider the possibility that it was a form of bullying, inconsiderate, and demeaning of another person. . . .

  18. cjb says:

    I had a special needs child and still don’t see what the issue is.

  19. Laurie says:

    Were cooking and other things that were taught in the class a part of the gift basket? If not, (or really even if so), it seems a thoughtless, if not down-right joy-suppressing graduation gift. “Congratulations, you’ve graduated, done well, now get ready to scrub your toilet with what you’ve learned here.” Not funny or appropriate for a happy occasion. And by the way, whether or not you have degrees, titles, diplomas etc., it doesn’t matter.

  20. Sally Hayes says:

    Maybe the gift was intended as needed supplies for when she moves out and gets her own place. Independent living not vocational intent. A gift is a gift not a mandate.

  21. Susan Fluckiger says:

    Having good teachers & bad teacher in my son’s educational career who graduated 6/2013 . let me clarify he did not receive any kid of graduation I was allowed to bring in a cake and the director gave him a piece a paper that he had no idea what it meant! It was the paraprofessionals that made his day. I believe that deep down this teacher had good intentions and perhaps was looking at the child’s IEP and wanted to motivate her to continue her with her goals and wasn’t thinking. I think she was simply trying to supply her with some tools of the skills they were working on? Perhaps Cleaning gloves, Windex, or Clorox wipes and visual instruction would have been a better choice of supplies. I believe it’s the toilet brush itself that is a symbolic rude slap in the face to the young graduate and I believe that anyone even as a joke for a NT person would find that offensive. I really don’t think she thought it all the way through and some people just don’t they are focusing on how they can help with there gift. I do not know either one so this is just an outsiders POV. If it’s part of a basket she gives all her students , I believe she needs to review her basket.

  22. Olivia Cano-Wells says:

    You never give a special needs student a toilet bowl brush and cleansers! It is very disrespectful thing to do to a student who will face challenges from higher education, work place and from the society that believe that they don’t deserve the same equal rights to education and opportunity. Believe this; if my son received a graduation gift like this one…I would do everything in my power to have that teacher fired and the school held accountable for the teacher’s actions. All teachers are not perfect and do not have the right to say to the student that this is what your life will amount to…a toilet brush. A better and positive gift would have been an organizer calendar or just a simple card saying to dream for your perfect job and future. I am one Mom with one voice but do not assume that I won’t protest a teacher, school and school district that allow this kind of attitude!

  23. Renee T says:

    I am a parent of two special needs kids who both get life skills training on a regular basis and, based on what’s in the article, I see no problem with what this teacher did-this parent is over-reacting. There are different life milestones, and for kids getting life skills training, graduating from the training is a milestone and household items is appropriate. The article states that the toilet cleaning supplies were PART of a gift basket -a gift basket that likely had other household items that would not be uncommon to give a graduating senior who is getting their first apartment. This parent is over-reacting and causing terrible strife for the teacher who obviously holds her students in high enough regard that she spent HER OWN MONEY to buy them gift baskets.

  24. Sandi Soliday says:

    It looks like we all agree on keeping our toilets clean. I don’t think, however, a toilet brush and cleaner are appropriate gifts. Having raised two children and worked in a school district for 10 years, I would conjecture that some graduating seniors would be disappointed to receive such a gift. Kudos to the teacher for teaching independent living skills and for the gift baskets, but the gift has caused hurt feelings and needs to be re-thought in the future.

  25. angie says:

    I am a Special Education teacher and have a child with disabilities. I have given many children, both neurotypical and disabled, graduation gifts of laundry baskets with toilet cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, etc., as well as a couple of towels and wash cloths. I think it’s all in the perception of the receiver. It could have been money and the parent may have felt that it wasn’t enough. Gifts are not requirements. Furthermore, I don’t know any Special Ed teachers who don’t really really care about their students and suspect that no malice was intended. We don’t do this job for money or thanks, because there is certainly not enough of either, but rather because we genuinely care about children.

  26. Jane McBride says:

    It might not have been something I would have thought to give, but I don’t see the big deal. It isn’t a suggestion that they are limited to a job cleaning toilets. We all have to do it. Some things are just plain wrong and should offend us, but this isn’t one of them. My son is in special ed and this wouldn’t have bothered me.

  27. Maria Hrabowski says:

    I am not sure what is worse, the teacher who gives her students “cute?” “clever?”, “funny?” graduation present which clearly reads, “That is what you are limited to do in your life”, then those with two master degrees, who don’t get it. Yes, I too teach my son to clean the toilet, and yes I clean it myself also, but there is a difference between learning to clean and getting such send off into adult life. Based on this type of present I have to deduce that this teacher hated her student. yes she spent her own money to have the last laugh. The fact that people with such sensitivities and such brains teach children with special needs is sadly not surprising but nonetheless sad.

  28. Tony S. says:

    I wish someone would give me a gift like that . Cleaned the toilets as a chore growing up, cleaned toliets at my first job as part of my responsibilities, still clean toilets in my home. Maybe one day I’ll finally get it right. The mother who demanded the teacher firing needs to channel her energy into some more positive. Pick your Bunker Hill !!!

  29. Rona says:

    My son is 19 has Autisum ,an I think that was very thoughtful of the teacher to give a gift that will promote self help skills .I’m showing my son how to plung the toilet these are skills they need. She’s just to sensitive ,let that Teacher alone she was just trying to help don’t make her life hell grow up that’s nothing to sue nobody for please Think about what your fighting for your child or your insecurities.

  30. Bellene Kaish says:

    The mother should lighten up. I read Disability Scoop because I have an adult son with autism. I also have a neurotypical child. When she got her first apartment I bought her a toilet brush and a mop and a pail and other cleaning items. I was not implying that she was going to work as a janitor. I was helping her to keep her apartment clean. The teacher was actually being positive. She was implying that the girl might one day have her own apartment and would need items to keep it clean. I am tired of teachers’ well intentioned actions being turned into negatives. I bet the teacher used her own money on these gifts also.

  31. K.O. says:

    Terri, I think you nailed it. I also give grads what I would want and what any grad can use, no matter their personality, cognitive or physical endowment: MONEY, GIFT CARDS and well wishes. . .this says congratulations and gives them the freedom to do with the gift whatever their hearts desire. Cleaning supplies don’t exactly give the heart wings!

  32. Lizzie says:

    There has to be more to this story. Who would get upset if the toilet brush was part of a gift basket from a teacher from a life styles class? But is it a nice gift, probably not…maybe a book of recipes would be a little more appreciative!

    I have zero college degrees & clean zero toilets but there is no way I would be a sane human being if I didn’t have my housekeeper. But it’s my one special gift to myself and to my special needs child.

  33. P Baker says:

    I would like to know what was in the rest of the gift basket. I have received some funky gifts over the years and I appreciated the thought.. and maybe others should too.

  34. Chel says:

    I got the same gift for graduation, and I’m not disabled. What’s the big deal? I was moving out on my own and needed it. These kids will need them too, especially if the goal of the class is to learn independent living skills. They did NOT just get a toilet brush and cleaner. They also got other household items, including a picture frame! It is obvious that the parent is twisting the truth to get back at the teacher over something.

  35. Chel says:

    Another thought, I’ve always been taught to appreciate any gift (and to say thank you, even if I don’t like it). I guess my parents taught me manners. Maybe the mom was mad that her daughter didn’t get $$$. Maybe the mom was planning on collecting the money and spending it on herself, or maybe she is just being selfish. Either way she is being rude and teaching her daughter to be rude and unappreciative.

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