Controversy brews over bathroom-cleaning punishment at Berkeley elementary school

Maggie Soun/Staff

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An 11-year-old student at a Berkeley elementary school contracted whooping cough after purportedly cleaning bathrooms as a punishment for alleged bullying.

Magdalene King’ori, the mother of the LeConte Elementary School fifth-grade student, claimed her son cleaned the bathrooms for a total of six days after a bullying incident April 30 in which he was a bystander. King’ori learned about the punishment May 14, a week after it started.

After King’ori found out about her son’s punishment, she filed a complaint to the school. The school, King’ori said, did not inform her of the bullying incident or subsequent punishment.

According to Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan, the students who were accused of bullying were given various options for their punishment, such as sweeping or picking up trash in the auditorium, playground or bathroom. There was no thorough cleaning or scrubbing involved in any of the punishments, Coplan said.

King’ori’s son did not scrub the bathroom but picked up paper towels using gloves, Coplan said.

Yusef Auletta, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at the elementary school whose students were involved in the bullying incident, said not all of the students involved chose the same punishment. Some students chose to pick up trash on the playground, while other students chose to pick up paper towels in the bathroom, he said.

Regarding the policies toward bullying, Coplan said the school district is on the forefront of addressing bullying. Although this controversy came as a surprise, it is not unusual to see community service as a form of punishment, he added.

“Campus beautification should push students in the right direction, not be a health service issue,” Coplan said.

King’ori, however, took issue with the options offered to the students.

“Why is cleaning bathrooms one of the options?” she said.

Additionally, her son contracted whooping cough after his punishment of cleaning bathrooms, King’ori said. She added that her son’s health was compromised by the punishment because bathrooms are health hazards.

Coplan said he does not think the whooping cough was contracted from cleaning the bathroom.

According to King’ori, her son went back to school Wednesday.

“I want to find a good resolution,” King’ori said. “I was not given a chance to protect my son.”

Auletta said he hoped this controversy would not bring a bad reputation to the students and the school, which commences its summer break Friday.

“I hate to see this impacting students and for the school year to end this way,” Auletta said.

The following letter was sent from the school district’s director of student services to the parents. The names of minors and personal contact information have been redacted by The Daily Californian, at the request of the parents. 

Staff writer Ivy Kim contributed to this report.

Contact Octavia Sun at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @@octavia_sun.

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  • heather

    The lead paragraph of this story is misleading. Pertussis is spread by airborne droplets, not by touching dirty towels. Even if the child had whopping cough it goes far beyond reason to say he got it from cleaning the bathroom. I have a child at Leconte and my first reaction was surprise at the nature of the punishment. After reading the letter from the school district I can see how it happened, so thank you for reprinting it online. In that move the Daily Cal has helped shed more light on the situation in the midst of some outlandish and overblown media coverage on the topic, with some reporters deciding to turn this info a race story. I’m with the other responders here, wondering where the mother’s concern is for the younger victim who is new to the school.

  • brycenesbittt

    Kids invested in a clean school is a good thing, as are real consequences. For example, the mother should be required to get the kid the whooping cough vaccine.

  • supersickandtired

    Magdalene King’ori lives in san leandro why is her son going to berkeley schools?

  • supersickandtired

    how about protecting the kids her son was bullying.

  • guest

    this story sounds fishier the longer it goes on. It has gone from this kid cleaning bathrooms to picking up paper towels with gloved hands. And from being the only punishment to being one of a few punishments offered. And then there is the whooping cough. Not likely caused by exposure to paper towels in the bathroom but definitely caused by this parent’s lack of vaccinating this child. Time to stop giving this parent her day on the front page.

  • “her son cleaned the bathrooms for a total of six days after a bullying incident April 30 in which he was a bystander” Well the fact that he was just a bystander is concerning. This seems like a silly zero-tolerance policy. It’s also interesting that the parent of the “offender” wasn’t notified. I would want to know if my kid was being a bully so I could punish them at home

    Getting whooping cough from picking up paper towels with gloves is far fetched though, but it sounds like a juicy tort suit.

  • Lynn Jones

    Apart from the appropriateness or not of bathroom cleaning as a punishment, your headline seems to make a causal relationship between the kid’s whooping cough and the task, which is silly. Whooping cough is going around the Bay Area [] and lots of teens catch it who have never cleaned a bathroom in their lives.

  • Angela Rose Guerra

    I always have heard and seen people or children who are bullied. Threatened, hurt, verbally abused, etc. It`s really hurt seeing people get hurt. “haters will say what they want, but their hate will never stop you from chasing your dream”. I suggest a safety application you could use if you are in trouble. check this out for more info.!/page_home

  • Red_Geologist

    Sounds like a fair system to me. The enabling parent of the bully is partly to blame. Perhaps she should clean some restrooms.

  • Bob Bell

    Too bad there isn’t a vaccine for pertussis (aka whooping cough).