Yesterday, Cherry Hill Public Schools placed Kelly Altenburg, a teacher who Stuart Chaifetz has accused of bullying his 10-year-old autistic son, on paid leave:
"I wanted to be proactive rather than reactive," superintendent Maureen Reusche said. "My primary focus is the instructional environment in the building."
Reusche said she hoped to minimize "disruption to our schools" since the identity of former Horace Mann Elementary School special-education teacher Kelly Altenburg was made public in a second YouTube video, released Wednesday by Stuart Chaifetz, the student's parent.
Two of the aides on the February 17 recording that Chaifetz made by placing a secret recording device on his son no longer work for the district. Altenburg and another aide were assigned to other duties until they were both placed on leave yesterday.
Chaifetz is considering releasing additional audio; I explained yesterday why I think the portions already made public show that Altenburg needs to lose her position.
Teacher Kelly Altenburg says that she was not present when aides in her classroom swore at and bullied a 10-year-old autistic boy. This contradicts the claims of the boy's father, Stuart Chaifetz, which I reported yesterday. Even if Altenberg's claims are accurate, she should still be dismissed for creating an atmosphere in which aides felt comfortable saying whatever they wanted to in front of children with limited verbal ability.
If you listen to recordings on Chaifetz's webpage, someone who is very clearly the teacher of record in the classroom has a lengthy conversation about lying to parents and other staff people to get out of doing part of her job:
Jodi and Kelly are talking about Field Day and how Kelly wanted to go on vacation with her husband instead of working. You can hear the kids, left by themselves, “stimming” on toys in the background. One electronic toy is played over and over again throughout the day.
At 00:46 Kelly says, “Our parents don’t come [to Field Day].” And “Last year this one came.”
Akian must have been right there, as I was the “this one” she referenced – the parent who volunteered to help at Field Day the previous year. Once again, they talk negatively about me in front of my son and the other students.
At 1:12 Kelly discusses lying about her attending Field Day. “We could probably hide the fact that I’m not here much more by saying ‘no, she had to run over here, or she had to run over here.’”
At 3:55 Kelly mentions me by name and how to lie if I ask for her on Field Day: “So if Stu says ‘where’s Kelly?’ Oh she has to take care of some work.” Jodi interjects “She’s inside, she’s inside!”
They then immediately talk about not wanting me to volunteer for Field Day, again speaking negatively about Akian and me. They state that Akian would “self-destruct” if I were there.
At 4:42, in the middle of further complaining about me, you hear Akian softly say, “Hi,” meaning he had just heard everything they were saying about him and me.
Kelly realizes that Akian shouldn’t be hearing their conversation and said, “Maybe he should not, maybe he shouldn’t…” and Jodi said, “Oh Akian, I completely forgot, can you come sit down, you were doing your book and I got sidetracked.”
Even though they just got caught having an inappropriate conversation, they focus on work for only a few seconds before Kelly is right back talking about Field Day. Interestingly, the last part of the conversation is that if Kelly was to be fired for not attending Field Day that Judi and Jodi would leave as well.
I should say that Field Day last year was a great experience; nothing went wrong. I had no idea they held anger toward me, and were conspiring to keep me away this year, or lie to me if I did show up to help.
A teacher who had this conversation with aides she is supervising is modeling dishonest and unprofessional behavior.
A teacher who had this conversation is front of students is teaching them to lie.
A teacher who had this conversation in front of the child of the father she is talking about lying to has no respect for the kids in her care.
Fortunately, the Cherry Hill school district is now their contradicting their previous statement, which indicated they had finished dealing with the situation:
School district officials say an investigation continues into Feb. 17 incident at Horace Mann Elementary School.
District officials, who previously said a probe took place shortly after they learned of the recording in February, on Thursday described the review as “ongoing.”
“While we cannot legally comment specifically on personnel matters, the district does not consider the matter closed at this time,” said a statement from Superintendent Maureen Reusche and school board president Seth Klukoff.
Update: The teacher named here has hired an attorney, and that attorney insists that she is NOT the person swearing at Akian.
Earlier today, I shared with you the disappointing response from Cherry Hill Public Schools to Stuart Chaifetz's YouTube video that included audio of a teacher and aides bullying his autistic son Akian.
Chaifetz responds to the district statement in another YouTube video (above). He identifies the teacher who called his son a "bastard" as Kelly Altenburg and then calls her voice mail to proves that she currently works at Cherry Hill High School West.
Chaifetz also appeared on FOX News this morning, a clip Zoey Roberts shared on Facebook.
In the days since Stuart Chaifetz released a YouTube video including audio of teachers at Horace Mann School bullying his autistic son Akian, the story has made national and international news. CNN did a segment that included an interview with Stuart, which you can see at the end of this post. His Change.org petition has over 100,000 signatures.
But the Cherry Hill Public Schools have made only a bureaucratic and legalistic statement:
In response to the recent media and social media attention regarding the district and Horace Mann Elementary School and, in an effort to communicate directly with our parents and community, Board of Education President Seth Klukoff and Superintendent Dr. Maureen Reusche presented the following statement at the April 24 Board of Education meeting.
“My fellow Board members and I certainly understand and share the concerns expressed by many members of the community,” said Mr. Klukoff. “We strongly believe that the district acted swiftly, appropriately and judiciously with regard to the staff in the classroom. What’s more, we are confident that these decisions were informed first and foremost by compassion for the students. We are proud of the many caring teachers and staff of our district who provide tireless dedication to our children and work ceaselessly to ensure that our classrooms are conducive to learning and growth.”
Dr. Reusche added, “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.”
Stuart Chaifetz was surprised by reports that his 10-year-old autistic son Akian was having violent outbursts in school. He was even more surprised when a behavioral specialist brought in because of the outbursts could see no evidence of them, even when they tried to provoke them. So Stuart decided to secretly record what happened in Akian's classroom when no other adults were there.
And it is horrifying.
They call that little boy a "bastard."
All of the aides and the teacher had inappropriate conversations in front of their students, with topics like drinking so much alcohol that they were sick the next morning, critical comments about parents, and discussions about getting out of school duties by lying.
But the heartbreaking part to me is the way they responded to Akian's need to be comforted. He spends some weekends with his mother, and this change in his routine troubles him on Fridays. He has a phrase that he says over and over, because he needs to be reassured:
May I see Dad after Mom?
Jodie, the one aide who has already lost her job, tells him, "No."
Someone else says, "You can't see." And several people laugh. And the person who said THAT is still employed at the district.
Akian is as upset as a 10-year-old autistic boy who has just been told he will not see his father might be expected to be.
And he has a violent meltdown.
I wish I could not say that I have seen variations on this theme over and over with teachers and other school staff I have worked with: provoke "bad behavior" and then blame the child. The crafty ones let other kids do the bullying, then pounce when given a reaction that lets them punish the kid they don't want in their classroom. This happens a lot with lots of kinds of kids. But autistic kids are especially prone to being targeted in this way, because their behaviors can annoy other people and because getting a big reaction out of them can be so easy.
Stuart is asking that the teacher, who is still working in the Cherry Hill School District, apologize and resign. He is asking that the other aides who were in the classroom that day and are still working in the district do the same.
Please watch his video, above.