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Cherry Hill Dad 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.

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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."

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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.

Reality Check April 27, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I totally agree with you. This man is an idiot. He is obsessed with getting attention. He obviously has not come to terms with his child's disability and wants someone else to blame. Plus, there was no "bullying." Bullying would be "hey everybody look how stupid and fat he is" He says the bullying was when the child asked the teacher "am i going to see daddy?" and she responded "no", which then made the child cry. But the child sees his mother on the weekend. Are they supposed to lie and say "yes"? The wine comment-inappriopriate, and person was immediately fired. everything else, completely up for debate. Its really sad that he would use his child like this. I personally, hope the child's mother gets full custody and he gets sued for illegally taping, editing and distributing this material.
Jessica Angle April 29, 2012 at 02:20 PM
I am a special educator, and hearing about what happened to Akian has me in tears. I wish every child with special needs had a strong and intelligent parent to advocate for them. I am horrified to know that people like the women in this tape are in the field of special education. They must be identified and removed by any means. For the honor of the profession, but more importantly for the honor and safety of innocent children! The women in this tape are monsters! Plain and simple--Edited or not, the words said were said. Every good hearted person should stand up in outrage!
Elle Johns May 06, 2012 at 06:07 PM
That's completely irrelevant. Those teacher/aids were caught on tape, there is no way to misinterpret who is talking on the tape. It had to be the teachers who are in the little boys class everyday. My mother is a teacher so I would defend a teacher to death, but wrong is wrong and what these teachers did was wrong on so many levels. It's just a shame that people out there are trying to justify this.
Christine Lyon Lorio July 19, 2012 at 07:44 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_aMbg9FK-c This is my son please help and send
Jason Kenyon November 21, 2013 at 01:07 AM
My daughter is 7 years old now and in 2nd grade. Each year her school has an assembly discussing bullying and each Monday her principal speaks in front of the entire school addressing good behavior and discouraging bullying. I've never children behave as well as they do at this "public" school. Want to end bullying, start early!!!

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