.

Stuart Chaifetz Tells YouTube: Teachers Bullied My Autistic Son

Detailing the abuses of classroom aides he says made his disabled son's school life "a living hell," Cherry Hill resident Stuart Chaifetz is taking his case public--with audio he captured secretly.

A Cherry Hill father who says his autistic son was tormented for at least six months by public-school special education teachers and support staff has taken his case viral with damning, covertly gathered audio of the classroom in which he says his son was abused.

In a 17-minute video, titled "Teacher/Bully: How My Son Was Humiliated and Tormented by his Teacher and Aide," Stuart Chaifetz replays portions of audio he attributes to "Kelly" and "Jodi," whom he says are his son Akian's former special education and resource teachers.

The voices in the recording tell 10-year-old Akian that he is "such a bastard," order him to "shut [his] mouth," and antagonize him by telling him "no" when he asks for reassurances that he will see his father soon.

Akian, Stuart Chaifetz says, is mostly non-communicative—as are his special-needs cohorts, in front of whom these remarks allegedly were made—but mostly sweet-tempered. On the tape, the boy can be heard responding by alternately whimpering like a kicked dog and lashing out at his caretakers.

When the notes describing Akian's bad behavior kept coming home, Stuart Chaifetz says he worked with a behavioral specialist and an IEP team to try to recreate a situation in which Akian was triggered into violence. They couldn't, so Stuart Chaifetz took matters into his own hands.

"On the morning of Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, I wired my son and sent him to school," Stuart Chaifetz writes on his website Teacher/Bully. "That night, when I listened to the audio, my life changed forever."

Chaifetz's complaints mention "Jodi" and "Kelly" as being teachers in the room with his son. The six-and-a-half hours of audio he claims to have gathered (and submitted to school officials) paints a picture of employees who discussed extensively personal details of their lives at length and in front of their charges. Chaifetz alleges that they did this because they were secure in the knowledge that none of the students in the classroom would be able to tell anyone about it.

(A March 26 report from the Interactive Autism Network and Johns Hopkins University researchers indicates preliminarily that more than 60 percent of all American children with autism spectrum disorders have been victims of bullying, with 47 percent of fifth-grade-aged students having had such experiences. The results of the studies have yet to be peer-reviewed.)

A Google cached version of the faculty list for Horace Mann Elementary School shows two names, Jodi Sgouros and Kelly Altenburg, that are no longer on its current directory; it is unknown for certain whether these are the women mentioned in Chaifetz's claims. The cached directory identifies Sgouros as an educational assistant and Altenburg as a special education teacher.

According to Altenburg's LinkedIn public profile, she is a "teacher/consultant at Cherry Hill Public Schools"; on his blog, Chaifetz says that although Jodi was fired, "Kelly...still works in the school district...an outrage I am not willing to allow to pass in silence."

On his video and his website, Chaifetz pleads for a formal explanation as to why some of the parties involved are still employed within the district.

"To this end, I seek a full and public apology from all those adults who were in my son’s class for what they did to him," he says on his site. "It is also far past time that these issues are allowed to be hidden from public view.

"If a teacher bullies a child, especially one with special needs, they need to be immediately fired."

When reached for comment early morning on Tuesday, April 24, district spokeswoman Susan Bastnagel said only that the Chaifetz's situation was "an internal personnel matter that the district took seriously and handled appropriately and quickly."

Bastnagel would offer no further comment, although she did suggest that a more formal statement could be possibly forthcoming from Cherry Hill Public Schools leadership.

Stay with Patch for additional updates as they become available.

-----------------

Update, 8 p.m., April 24: Cherry Hill Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Reusche released the following statement on the district's website:

"In February, upon receiving a copy of an audio recording, the district undertook a thorough and rigorous investigation and, as we have previously noted, responded swiftly and appropriately. Although this is a personnel matter and there are specifics that I cannot legally address publicly, I want to assure our parents that the individuals who are heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district and have not since shortly after we received the copy of the recording."

-----------------

Update, 11:03 a.m., April 24: An earlier version of this article considered whether the aide captured on Stuart Chaifetz's audio recording may have been a Cherry Hill Public Schools long-term substitute also named Jodi; Chaifetz has confirmed to Patch that this is not the person captured on his recording. We apologize for the error. 

Chaifetz also confirmed that although Akian had the same teacher for more than a year, his son's reported behavioral concerns have only been ongoing since September 2011.

Jill Klein April 25, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Totally agree.
Bryan Littel April 25, 2012 at 06:44 PM
For those of you who haven't seen it yet, we have an update, and Chaifetz says Altenburg is still working in the Cherry Hill school district - though now at CH West High School: http://patch.com/A-sJbQ
Chewie19 April 25, 2012 at 08:31 PM
http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/1060/1060_01.asp
lisa April 25, 2012 at 10:16 PM
hi from prince george bc canada.....i was so shocked and upset at watching the news and hear the behavior of the teacher and aide towards your son. first of all i am a single mom to a 9 year old son. 2nd i have worked with people with developemental and phsyical disabilities for 12 yrs. now the b***h in me would go and confront this teacher/aide. and kick her into next week. however the caregiver and mother in me, would be raising so much hell those 2 would be never working again in any school district......you tube is good place to start. this is a young child, this is not adult. regardless no respectful teacher or aide would ever ever talk to a person like this period!!!! my heart goes out to ur child because he doesnt know whats going on or why hes being picked on! and retaliation on his part to them is because he cant express himself like you or i would. its tough to even listen to this tape. (lisa in canada)
Patrick Littel April 27, 2012 at 04:10 AM
"Although this is a personnel matter and there are specifics that I cannot legally address publicly".....so stated Superintendent Maureen Reusche on the district's website. What?!?!?! This is NOT a personnel matter--this is an abuse issue that has created tremendous heartache for a student and his family and distrust by the public. Shame on Ms. Reusche for not notifying the authorities and not being more transparent with such a professional failure in the school district.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »