When Stuart Chaifetz, a father in Cherry Hill, N.J., was told his autistic son was acting uncharacteristically violent at school, he sent him to class wearing a hidden recording device that caught a teacher on tape bullying students. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports.
By Ian Johnston, msnbc.com
A father discovered staff at a school in New Jersey were “bullying” and using offensive language toward his 10-year-old autistic son after he fitted his child with a wire.
Stuart Chaifetz posted extracts of the recording on YouTube on April 20. He said the audio revealed staff members at Horace Mann Elementary School in Cherry Hill calling his son Akian a “bastard” and talking about vomiting that morning due to a hangover.
In response on Tuesday, the Cherry Hill School District released a statement saying a swift investigation had been conducted and the people involved no longer worked there. In the YouTube video, Chaifetz said that shortly after his “wonderful, happy son” went to the school, notes were sent home saying his son was “hitting the teacher, hitting the aide and throwing chairs over.”
A behaviorist was called in to see what was wrong, months passed, and Chaifetz still could not understand what was happening. Akian’s autism meant he was not able to tell his father.
Eventually, Chaifetz decided to fit Akian with a hidden recording device. In the YouTube video, he said his “life changed forever” when he listened to the tape on the night of Friday, Feb. 17, and found that staff at the school were “literally making my son’s life a living hell.”
“Okay, Akian, you are a bastard,” was one comment on the tape from a woman who Chaifetz said was a teacher. ”Go ahead and scream, because guess what? You are going to get nothing until your mouth is shut,” was another. ’The wine won”
He also recorded a conversation between two people in the class talking about the consequences of a night out drinking wine with a friend. ”You know what I was doing this morning?” says one woman. “Heaving?” asks the other. “Oh my God, so bad. The wine won.”
Chaifetz, a single parent, said his son regularly went to stay with his mother, but the boy would sometimes feel anxious about these moves and ask for reassurance that he would see his father again. In the tape, Akian is heard asking “May I see?” — which Chaifetz said the staff member would know referred to him, based on prior experience — and the staff member replied, “You cannot see,” followed by the sound of laughter. The staff member’s response — which Chaifetz said was designed to make fun of Akian — caused his son to have a “half-hour meltdown.” “I know how much that hurt Akian,” he added.
Watch Stuart Chaifetz’s YouTube video about the recordings he made of teaching staff “bullying” his son. ”He threw over chairs because he was in pain, because this woman had just stabbed him with words,” he added. “My son didn’t go to school, he went to prison and he learned to fight to survive.” Chaifetz said he wanted a public apology from the teacher, who he said was called Kelly, and an aide, whom he named as Jodi. He also called for legislative action “so that no teacher who bullies a child, especially one with special needs” is allowed to carry on teaching.
Petition to change law Chaifetz set up a petition calling on New Jersey lawmakers to pass legislation “so that teachers who bully children are immediately fired.” As of Wednesday at 11:25 a.m. ET, it had 61,989 signatures. ”I’m not looking to sue anybody. I’m not going to file a lawsuit. It’s not about money. It’s about dignity,” Chaifetz said in the video. Addressing his son in the video, Chaifetz said he was “so sorry you went through all this.” ”You didn’t deserve it. You are a wonderful human being, and I love you with all my heart. Please don’t let the cruelty of these vicious and miserable people change your beautiful nature,” he said.
Maureen Reusche, superintendent of Cherry Hill School District, said in a statement to a Board of Education meeting Tuesday that the people heard on the recording “raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district.” She said the district had carried out a “thorough and rigorous investigation and, as we have previously noted, responded swiftly and appropriately,” according to the statement, which was posted online. Reusche said the situation was a “personnel matter and there are specifics that I cannot legally address publicly.” Board of Education President Seth Klukoff added that board members “certainly understand and share the concerns expressed by many members of the community.”
“We strongly believe that the district acted swiftly, appropriately and judiciously with regard to the staff in the classroom. What’s more, we are confident that these decisions were informed first and foremost by compassion for the students,” he added. “We are proud of the many caring teachers and staff of our district who provide tireless dedication to our children and work ceaselessly to ensure that our classrooms are conducive to learning and growth.”
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