Florida teacher Lillian Gomez was fired from Sunrise Elementary School in Kissimmee last year for allegedly force-feeding an autistic student crayons and Play-Doh that had marinated in hot sauce, according to WFTV. Now, under a judge’s order, Gomez has reportedly been rehired by the district and will resume a classroom teaching role. Though Gomez has consistently maintained her innocence, parents in the district can’t believe that her position has been reinstated. "That's kind of ridiculous," said one parent. “Maybe she shouldn't work with children. Maybe she should find another career."
Gomez claimed that she did not feed the boy hot sauce-laced crayons as a punishment. Rather, she wanted to stop him from eating art supplies in the classroom. A judge sided with Gomez, determining that her actions were irresponsible, but not malicious, according to the New York Daily News. "I think she made a bad judgment in the way she went about it," said Gomez’s attorney, Thomas Egan. "But her purpose was good."
“Pica” is a term used by doctors to describe craving and eating items that offer no nutrients, like ice, paper, chalk, and, sometimes, clay. Though pica sometimes arises because of a nutrient deficiency, sometimes it is the result of another underlying disorder. The National Autism Society of America told ABC News that pica is a behavior that children with autism sometimes exhibit, and teachers in a classroom setting should learn healthy ways to address the issue without putting the child’s health at risk.
"There are also hundreds of school teachers and professionals across the country who can handle challenging behaviors such as pica [eating inedible objects] in a sensitive, human manner that upholds the dignity of each child," said the Autism Society's spokeswoman Ashley Parker, according to ABC News. "A behavior like eating crayons in a child with autism should not automatically be viewed as a delinquent behavior."
A spokeswoman for the Osceola County School District told ABC News that Gomez will be returning to the classroom as per court order, but she will not have her own class. She will be assisting other teachers. There is no word yet on when she will be returning to school. A district spokeswoman said that the school is simply complying with the court’s order. "We lost the appeal, so by law we have to comply by the courts," said school district spokeswoman Dana Schafer. "We don't want to come out and say anything bad about the teacher or say anything to worry parents."