'Teachers Bullied My Autistic Son'

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 Collingswood 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.

jessica barnstable April 27, 2012 at 07:54 PM
I have 2 sons with Autism. my youngest son use to come home with brusses from school. telling us he had a melt down.We had tell them if my son comes home with anymore marks or brusses we will sue the teachers and school system for hurting my son. Its a shame that kids with Autism are treated like trash. It has too stop. New laws need to be made to protect them in the schools.
Amy Simon April 28, 2012 at 10:05 AM
Home schooling is not the answer! ALL children have the right to attend their neighborhood schools if appropriate. Hiring the right staff IS the answer. Paying the staff properly for the work they do. Many aides are underpaid. BUT that does not, never excuse this terrible behavior. I have a daughter with developmental disabilities who is able to communicate and has been taught to advocate. But so many are not. Please - SPED DIRECTORS, listen up: do a better job hiring your staff, training, coaching and observing their behavior. So much depends upon it!!
worried mom June 05, 2012 at 05:29 AM
I have indentical twin sons whom both were bullyed by their teacher last school year along with a classroom aides which all didnt stop my children's classmates from bullying them. Both of my boys are now separted in school after fighting for them to be since they started school. My boys are high fuction austic. My oldest twin is more Austic and he is in the same program as last year with the same class room bully aides along with his peers from last year. The teacher who he had last year went out on maitery leave and was due back in Feb after winter break and then was advised to extend her leave till the end of the year. During this time period we had DYFS called on us because someone stated that I was under the infulance of alochol when I came to pick up my children.
worried mom June 05, 2012 at 05:33 AM
That afternoon I had one mug of beer with my lunch and then cut myslef off, in the meantime a 4th grade teacher from the school was sitting acrossed from myself and my friend drinking heavily. The following week DYFS was at my children's school without my knowledge and to be at my home the next day. My oldest twin now is traumist by the whole ordeal and is going to theaphy because of it. That case was closed. Last week once again someone from the school called DYFS because my oldest twin who now is in his own world told a friend that he was playing cops and robbers with his dad and that his dad put a fake gun to his head. The teacher who bullied him was at the school last month and since her visit this poor child has been having bathromm acidents in school and only school. DYFS had advised they are going to close the case due to his mental state. Can someone please help me out to fight and gear me in the right direction with legal help. I been to the board of ed and director of speical services with them all saying its all my son.
worried mom June 05, 2012 at 05:33 AM
This poor kid has been threw hell because of this damn school district that we live in. Their soution to the problem was to transfer the Bully teacher into another school within the district. This needs to stop my son whom is now emontinal scared is not the first of her victims. She needs to be stopped and this school district whom preachs all about their S.O.A.R. crap is bunch of BS. Tell my poor eight year old son who is stuck in his own world that I cant even recach to about how much they all supposly care about him and his brother. Thank you a very upset mom in Northern Passic County.


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