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
Autistic boy’s father: Why hasn’t teacher been fired over ‘bullying’?
By Ian Johnston, msnbc.com
The father of an autistic boy allegedly bullied by staff at a New Jersey school has vowed to keep campaigning until the teacher of his son’s class has her license revoked.
Stuart Chaifetz, 44, put a wire on his son Akian, 10, and recorded staff in his class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Cherry Hill calling the child “a bastard,” talking about vomiting that morning due to a hangover, and apparently teasing the child to the point where he had a “half-hour meltdown.”
The school superintendent said Tuesday that staff who were heard acting inappropriately were no longer working in the district. At least one classroom aide reportedly lost her job.
But Chaifetz said the teacher, Kelly Altenburg, had been moved to another school. The district has refused to comment beyond the superintendent’s statement.
“When did teachers become more important than children?” Chaifetz said.
He decided to put a wire on Akian after staff repeatedly complained the child was hitting them and throwing chairs around. He could not understand why his “wonderful, happy” son would act in this way and decided to find out what was going on in the class. Akian’s autism meant he was unable to explain.
Chaifetz, speaking in a YouTube video that contained clips from the February recording, said the tape revealed 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 Chaifetz said he’s “99 percent” sure was the teacher.
“Go ahead and scream, because guess what? You are going to get nothing until your mouth is shut,” a woman’s voice was heard saying in another exchange.
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?” said one woman. “Heaving?” asked the other. “Oh my God, so bad. The wine won.”
Chaifetz, 44, an investigator with an animal protection group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, blames Altenburg for the classroom’s atmosphere.
“Even if she said nothing, she should be fired because that room was her responsibility,” he said.
However, Steve Wollmer, communications director for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, told msnbc.com that Altenburg “basically was exonerated” and said Chaifetz “doesn’t perhaps understand exactly what happened there.”
Wollmer said Altenburg had been reassigned to another school.
“My understanding is the board did that because they wanted to avoid any further contact between parents and her in the class because this guy has stirred up concern among parents,” he said.
Wollmer said the association had not been asked to represent Altenburg because “she’s not implicated in what’s raging out there on the Internet.”
Speaking in general terms, Wollmer said that “before people accuse people of things, they want to know if they’re accusing them fairly or accurately.”
“What if she were not present at the time? There were teacher aides involved in this. What if she were not in that immediate part of the room? If you don’t witness something, how can you stop it?” he said.
Altenburg’s attorney, Matthew B. Wieliczko, said that “at this time, we have no comment,” when contacted by msnbc.com.
“I’m not letting this go. I will take this to the department of education and get her license revoked so she cannot work anywhere else,” Chaifetz said.
“I think there need to be offenses that teachers get fired for, regardless of tenure or not,” he added. “When you can prove bullying by a teacher, tenure should be meaningless.”
Child ‘doing much better’
Akian has now left Horace Mann, and Chaifetz said he was “doing much better now he’s away from there.”
“He doesn’t have any of the behaviors he had then. It only happened when he was with the teacher, Kelly Altenburg, and the aide,” he said. “But I think he’s got some scars from this. How could he not?”
The YouTube video containing clips from the recording had more than 2.9 million views as of 9 a.m. ET Thursday, and an online petition to “pass legislation so that teachers who bully children are immediately fired” had 111,000 signatures.
Chaifetz said the response has had been “overwhelming.”
Dad wires up autistic son, 10, to expose ‘bullying’ by teaching staff
“There are so many wonderful people, people with stories of them being bullied, they are coming in every hour, hundreds of emails,” he said. “This is really pervasive. There’s a lot of bullying, there’s a lot of bullying of special needs kids. It’s like an epidemic.”
He said his son’s case had “opened up a big window into what’s going on.”
“People feel like they’re alone,” he said. “One positive thing that has come out of this: They saw a parent standing up and it’s helping them stand up too.”
The Associated Press has found at least nine similar cases across the U.S. since 2003. It said parents of special needs students had secretly recorded teachers using insults like “bastard,” “tard,” “damn dumb” and “a hippo in a ballerina suit.” A bus driver threatened to slap one child, while a bus monitor told another, “Shut up, you little dog.”
Chaifetz said he had given advice to “a couple” of other parents on how to put a wire on their child, after they contacted him about it, but cautioned people to check to laws in their state.
CaseClosed2: Parents must protect their children against bullying teachers and staff. More parents should get the bad behavio of teachersr on video tape and expose what is happening to their children in some of these schools which goes unreported and pushed under the rug. There are teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom, they were bullys as kids and are bullys as aduts.Hidden cameras are necessary to get the truth revealed to the unsuspecting public.
Your kid could be next to be classified a criminal with a criminal in nature school record which will follow the student until he graduates school, or does something to be put in jail because the stress of coping with the vile actions of school staff became too much for him, or her to bear. Let’s not let this happen. Let’s not allow our children to be bullied by teachers and staff. Get their unprofessional bad behavior on tape.