FORT PIERCE — A new principal has been assigned to Morningside Elementary, a school that gained notoriety after a teacher asked her students to vote on whether a 5-year-old boy could remain in class, St. Lucie County Superintendent Michael Lannon announced today.
Cortina Bell-Gray, an administrator who has been with the school district for six years, will head the school this fall.
“I come to it with much excitement, much humility,” Bell-Gray said of the appointment.
Bell-Gray, whose appointment was announced during today’s school board meeting, will assist in the search for an assistant principal, Lannon said.
The assignments come at the close of a difficult year for Morningside. More than a year ago, teacher Wendy Portillo asked her students to vote on whether then 5-year-old Alex Barton could remain in class after being sent to the office twice for misbehaving. The students voted 14-2 for him to leave.
The incident attracted an onslaught of attention, drawing email and phone calls from around the world.
That Alex was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, and had been under evaluation for it at the time only added to the controversy.
Portillo was suspended without pay, but will be allowed to return to the classroom in November. Her position, though tenured, will depend on vacancies within the district.
Several months prior to the vote-out, a reading mentor at Morningside was arrested on charges of molesting an 8-year-old girl.
Anthony J. Tripoli, 69, was convicted in May of sexual battery and lewd or lascivious molestation. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Principal Marcia Cully and Assistant Principal Patricia Gascoigne were reassigned to Fairlawn Elementary from Morningside at the end of the year. Fairlawn’s principal, Susan Lyle, retired.
Lannon has said the changes were not related to the vote-out incident.
Bell-Gray has been an assistant principal at several schools in St. Lucie County. She also was principal of Garden City Elementary about two years ago.