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School aide punished for Facebook post
Supportive comment to autistic student gets Crowell employee in trouble

What was meant as a good deed for a former student resulted in a Crowell Elementary School Para Instructional Aide facing a formal reprimand from the Turlock Unified School District on an allegation she broke a confidentiality clause.

Deirdra Martinez found herself in trouble after making a comment on Facebook that mentioned a student by name.

Martinez works as a one-on-one aide with autistic children at Crowell. One of her former students, Andrew Shabazian and his mother, Stephanie Shabazian have been trying to raise funds for Autism Speaks and recently had their donation box stolen. The theft generated wide media coverage and prompted Stephanie Shabazian to share it on the Facebook page she created named Andrew Shabazian “Team Shabazian.” The page is meant to spread awareness about autism.

Martinez went to the page and left a few comments of support and asked how she could make a donation. Then she posted a message that resulted in her facing disciplinary action. The Facebook message read: “This is so awesome you're doing this!! Nobody is suppose to know this but in my almost 7 years working in autism Andrew was my favorite student & touched my heart the most. I absolutely love that kid.  Yaay Andrew!!!”

Stephanie Shabazian thanked Martinez for her support and the two went on to have a public discussion about autism and the curriculum available through the District. In this discussion, Martinez expressed an opinion about how students are transferred from one school to another and wrote: “I think they should've had one of us go to Wakefield with him for a few months to transition him... That's just my opinion though.”

“That was it,” Martinez said. “I didn’t think anything else about the posts until I was called into the principal’s office the following day and she had the whole conversation printed out in front of her.”

Martinez said Principal Linda Alaniz informed her that a staff member had seen the posts and made a complaint that Martinez had broken the District’s confidentiality clause.

The District’s confidentiality clause states in part that “Any information related to a student’s academic performance, attendance, or discipline record; personally-identifiable information related to a student’s family, health needs, special services, financial circumstances, or other records protected by state or federal privacy regulations,” is considered confidential.

Martinez was told she broke the confidentiality clause by stating Andrew’s name in her post.

“I thought it was ridiculous that they were saying I broke confidentiality when his name is on the Facebook page,” Martinez said. She also says she never signed a confidentiality document and that the school was unable to produce a signed copy.

Martinez was told she had to sign a formal reprimand that would go on her employment record, but she refused and said she wanted to speak to her union representative.

“I’ve never been written up in my seven years with the District and I’ll be darned if I was going to get written up for donating to a student with autism,” Martinez said.

The following day at afternoon recess Martinez said she was confronted by the principal again and told she had to sign the formal reprimand. She said she again refused and stated she wouldn’t talk about the matter unless a union representative was present. The encounter happened in the presence of other staff members and students. After issuing her refusal, Martinez was told to leave the school grounds.

“I just couldn’t believe I was being targeted for doing something nice,” Martinez said.

Stephanie Shabazian was just as incredulous at the reaction Martinez got for her post. “She didn’t break Andrew’s confidentiality and or offend us,” Shabazian said. “I had no complaint. She was trying to be supportive.”

Martinez’s California School Employees Association labor representative Michael Casias said the post never should have become an issue since the parent had no complaint. The complaint was lodged by a Crowell staff member who believed Martinez’s posts violated Andrew’s privacy and left the District open to litigation by criticizing the process of moving a student from one school to another, Casias said.

“In our opinion she didn’t do anything wrong,” Casias said. “We don’t believe there was any violation and we don’t agree with any disciplinary action because the parent isn’t the one making the complaint.”

By Thursday the move for a formal reprimand had been abandoned and Martinez was given a letter of warning.

“I settled for that because I’m not a confrontational person, but I still don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Martinez said. “What I did, I did with good intentions and a kind heart and I would do it again.”