The move came in reaction to accusations from the school that his son Akian was having “violent outbursts,” including hitting his teacher and teacher’s aide — claims that Chaifetz claims are against his son’s “sweet and non-violent” nature.
Akian, who has Autism, returned with a tape containing hours of apparent verbal and emotional abuse from his classroom aide and teacher — whom Chaifetz identifies as “Jodi” and “Kelly” — a recording which his father later published on YouTube.
The Feb. 17 recording started with Akian’s aide and the teacher, whom Collingswood Patch provides evidence may be Jodi Sgouros and Kelly Altenburg, respectively, based on a previously published online staff directory.
The two engage in inappropriate conversations, like joking about their alcohol abuse and sex lives in front of their students — all of whom have behavioral conditions and, according to Chaifetz, communication difficulties that prevent them from relaying the conversations to their parents.
“You would never get away with talking about your alcohol abuse the night before if this was a mainstream class,” Chaifetz says in the YouTube video. “And that’s the point, isn’t it? They knew none of those boys could go home and tell their parents that the person who ran that class was under the influence of alcohol and was throwing up.”
As the tape continues, the teacher and teacher’s aide’s behavior turns from inappropriate to cruel.
“Who are you talking to, nobody?” Kelly asked Akian, who sometimes talks to himself. “Knock it off,” Jodi chimed in.
According to the video, Akian became upset, and starting crying.
“Go ahead and scream because guess what? You’re going to get nothing until your mouth is shut,” the classroom official is heard saying. “Shut your mouth.”
Due to his son’s anxiety, Chaifetz, who is divorced from his wife, has to reassure Akian that he will return to his care after the boy spends time with his mother.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said, describing the reassurance ritual in the video.
When Akian asked his teacher for the same reassurance, however, she answered “no,” sending him into an emotional panic. The teacher’s aide, too, responded cruelly.
“Oh Akian, you are a bastard,” Jodi said, according to the audio recording.
Chaifetz said that the classroom aide was fired after the he presented the recording to school district officials, but that the teacher remains employed, though in a different classroom.
Susan Bastnagel, Cherry Hill Public School District spokesperson declined to comment on the teacher’s continued employment, but told The Huffington Post that the incident is a “personnel matter that the district took seriously and handled appropriately.”
“That my son’s teacher was not fired and still works in the school district is an outrage I am not willing to allow to pass in silence,” Chaifetz said in an email to The Huffington Post.
“She betrayed my son and caused him great pain. If some union rule or HR regulation has allowed her to keep her job, then the law needs to be changed so that the next time a teacher bullies a child, especially one with special needs, they will be immediately fired. For me to do nothing would mean I was treating my son with as much disrespect as they had,” he added.
An online petition on Change.org and a Facebook page calling for the teacher’s termination have already received attention.
Akian’s troubling experience is not unique, nor is his father’s method of exposing believed wrongdoing in the classroom.
“I have also been stunned by how many emails I have received from people with special needs who were bullied by teachers when they were in school, and from parents who have a situation that mirrors what I went through,” Chaifetz told The Huffington Post. “These parents are desperate to find out what is happening to their child and have asked for help on how to wire them.”
This was the case for parents of a special needs student at Miami Trace Middle School in Ohio, who sent their daughter to school with a hidden tape recorder last fall after the girl repeatedly complained about teacher bullying.
The revelation was shocking: the educators on the recording called the child lazy and dumb, and forced her to run on a treadmill with increasing speed.
“Don’t you want to do something about that belly,” former teaching aide Kelley Chaffins says in the recording. “Well, evidently you don’t because you don’t do anything at home. You sit at home and watch TV.”
The girl and her father spoke to Ann Curry on NBC’s “TODAY” last November and, in a tearful interview, the concerned dad recounted how the abuse had affected his daughter.
“She got to where she didn’t want to go to school,” he said. “She was … starting to harm herself to keep from going to school and we knew we had to do something at that point.”
Chaffins was later forced to resign from her position.
Other bullying incidents have also been exposed by hidden cameras. After Julio Artuz, a 15-year-old at Bankbridge Regional School in New Jersey asked his teacher to stop calling him “special,” the teacher told him, “…I will kick your a– from here to kingdom-come until I’m 80 years old.”