A parent says her daughter was forced to sit at a table with special needs students after misbehaving in the cafeteria of a school in south St. Petersburg.
Amy Lapiccirella says the punishment for her daughter, who is in the fourth grade at Bay Point Elementary School, is inappropriate and sends the wrong message to other students.
"I think that's fostering bullying, and it's not teaching tolerance," Lapiccirella said. "And it's teaching that children with special needs are a punishment."
Lapiccirella says her daughter got in trouble last week and was told by a lunchroom attendant, "If you want to behave like you're special then you could sit at a special table."
Initially, a spokesperson for the Pinellas County School District said the student may have been sent to that table because there were more adults there who could supervise.
Later, the district released a statement that said students are moved to any tables with empty seats.
"There is not a designated table where students are moved to if they are not following directions of a staff member," the statement said. "It is not practice to move students to a specific table."
Brenda Walker, a professor of special education at the University of South Florida, says banishment to a special needs table would be inappropriate discipline.
"Instead of saying we accept, we affirm our students with disabilities, it sends the opposite message," Walker said.