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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.

Happy Pappy April 25, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Great point Matt! If it isn't appropriate to name call or personally attack people on an anonymous internet forum then isn't it 1000% more wrong to do it to an autistic child TO HIS FACE in front of a classroom by an adult? If I continued my conduct wouldn't you ban me from this site? Then in fact shouldn't Kelly Altenburg be fired then?! I don't care if you do ban me from here because I came here for this one and only story since it struck a fury in me like I never felt before. I meant what I said Kelly Altenburg is a cantankerous wench who should NOT be teaching AUTISTIC children!! The fact that she still is teaching is a travesty of the New Jersey School System.
southjerseygirl April 25, 2012 at 03:53 PM
You cannot be serious. We expect the Cherry Hill School District to do what is right on their own. Has anyone seen "Waiting for Superman". Teachers that are charged with inappropriate behavior are kept on salary for endless months and then shifted around to other school districts. It's a disgrace! Use your voice to put an end to tenure! That's the first step. No one has the right to a job . . . you must earn your job daily!
ellen strauss April 25, 2012 at 04:14 PM
These people did not bully this child. These people mentally abused this child. The laughter demonstrated their enjoyment. This was a special Education violation, this was an ADA violation. These were federal violations. Forget the apology. Even if it does happen, there will be no sincerity behind it. These actions will be repeated by this person to others. Further,this child was not the only one who suffered from these people. Every child in the class heard and witnessed these events and were affected. Finally, This is not the only "teacher" in the system who is like this. If civil rights and/or special Ed attorneys have not already contacted the father, he needs to seek them out. Money may not be the answer for the father, but money means a lot to the school system. Lastly, Akian has the right to be in a learning environment that is qualified to work with him. By what has been documented it is without a doubt the services he received were the antithesis of what he was entitled. It has been documented that what he received was actually detrimental to his needs and every other child in that class with THOSE people. Get a GOOD attorney. Get Akian placed in a proper school setting, and bring forth the cruelty that has been covered up. I am so glad this is out there
Dianne LeVa April 25, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Absolutely agree with eleanor b....web cams and audio feeds in classrooms, especially those with younger or disabled kids (who can't clearly express problems expeirenced in a classroom) would eliminate a lot of this behavior. The majority of teachers are wonderful, but there are definitely some rotten ones. Bullying by other kids is bad enough, but when teachers and aides stoop to that level, they just need to go.
ellen strauss April 25, 2012 at 04:26 PM
What I find interesting by your post is this father has been an advocate for his child. He was seriously involved in the cuts in Special Ed. the School system knew him. The teacher knew him.. Was the child treated like this in retaliation for the fathers involvement? Can anyone justify calling a kid a bastard? Was it a vocab lesson? The tape presented a normal day of normal and acceptable actions by the adults. It is time for an attorney to step in. .
dest_79 April 25, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Wow apparently some ppl on here need their ears checked. Point blank, its on the tape. Most of his arguments are true. If this were a normal public school and teacher is speaking about alcohol night before. If anyone smelt her breathe, she would be put on suspension with no pay! Also in a public school telling a child to out right shut up or belittle a child could go to principal to defend there rights! My friend teaches autistic children n it is understood that it is not easy. But this child in no form is violent, gropey or filled with bad language. This is pure Disgust n all teachers n aides present on this day should have their teaching rights stripped away! I think sueing the school for misconduct n emotional rewards is suit for this child. Also agree funds should be put in place by this childs name for other children who cannot be placed in schools that fit there specific needs. Last but definitely not least, this should be forwarded to NEWS12 n given to Christie's office. Bc boy would he have a field day with these teachers! I would love to be a fly on the wall during that reprimanding!
Bevwmson April 25, 2012 at 04:27 PM
If a parent does not stand up for their child who can not stand up for themselves who else will? I find it appalling that any teacher and teachers aide would talk to any child in the manner that is heard on the tape. So what if he is no stranger to Cherry Hill schools and had issues with the School District in the past. If it were not your child I would like to see how you would handle things. Would you stand up for his/her rights when he/she could not do so? I would feel for your child if you did not stand up for him/her in any similar situation. This is the kind of bullying that causes many young people to comment suicide. It not only comes from fellow students and peers but also from inept adults they are in contact with. Not only was Mr. Chaifetz fighting/protecting his son rights he was also fighting/protecting the rights of other children with autism and any other learning disability. If a parent does not stand up and protect their child from this or any other kind of abuse/bullying then there is something wrong! I give him a high five and standing ovation for doing what he did! The teacher and other teachers aide both should have been fired along with Jodi for they both were a willing participate in the bullying of this child and no telling how many more they have done the same to!
Dianne LeVa April 25, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I'd say it's national, Happy Pappy...I'm in California. I'd hate to be Kelly Altenburg today, or any of the involved people at Horace Mann Elementary. But it's nothing more than they all deserve.
Lauren Burgoon April 25, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Hi all, FYI, Stuart Chaifetz posted a follow-up video on YouTube. We have coverage here: http://patch.com/A-sHLD
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 05:29 PM
@Happy Pappy - I do not think that we need to ban anyone from having what is a vibrant and lively conversation. I am just asking you to make your points, which are perfectly valid, without the name-calling. Thanks.
Terry April 26, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Maybe someone will bully/mentally abuse one of the teacher or teacher's aides "Jodi's" or "Kelly's" children. By someone I mean an adult that they would think their child would be safe with or have entrusted their child too. Then they will truly know what damage their actions caused this child and his family. The fear and terror that child felt in the classroom with those two individual's can never be taken back. I would hope they both would run up against someone who would instill the same fear and terror in them. They are cowards and do not belong in a unsupervised setting with any living being.They have already proved themselves unworthy. "Character is what you say or do when you think no one is watching." I hope this parent sues every which way he can. A word of advice for parents and guardians of school aged children. Make yourself known at the school/s they attend. I wish the Best for Akain and Stuart.
Jane Smith April 26, 2012 at 02:56 AM
All of the teachers should be fired, they should all serve time in jail for what they did. Innocent children should not be treated this way. Fleming ..... why would you make a statement to make the father look bad??? I am curious about who you are to say that
DM April 26, 2012 at 04:09 AM
An employee with a secret tape is a lot different than a child who is disabled are two entirely different situations. Adults who have a job can care for themselves. Child who cannot communicate in the usual way do not. I agree with the majority of the comments on here, how is it that you can call a 10 year old child in a classroom a bastard? How is that word to be taken "in context" in a classroom? "Shut Your Mouth"? How is that in context in the tone she had on that recording? You sound ridiculous trying to defend the content of that tape.
Connie Schmidt Kirman April 26, 2012 at 10:44 AM
No one in that classrooms should be employed with children, and shame on the school for not knowing this was going on. Listening to that was a heartbreak.
ellen strauss April 26, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Forget the father, forget the child. The school district does not care about either. What they care about is their responsibility to cover up what happened and for this to be forgotten. That is all they care about. BELIEVE ME If they apologize they will be admitting to what happened which leaves them wide open to sanctions by both the state and feds. So that will not happen. Sue them In fact, this should be a class action on part of all the children who had this teacher and aide for the year. Each and everyone of these children were placed in jeopardy when they were left with these people ergo each and every one of their IEP's were violated. Verbal battering, belittling, swearing, and taunting are not educational plans. Or maybe in this school district they are. Our educational system jumps on every new band wagon there is trying to educate our children, just maybe this school district will become a shining new example of a new educational program. Sue the hell out of them.
Bradford H April 26, 2012 at 05:48 PM
@jgligor @realist - You must be "Jodi" and "Kelly" because nobody else would be dumb enough to defend what is on those tapes.
Carol April 26, 2012 at 06:49 PM
seeingiperson This is so upsetting. Why did these women go into this profession? Perhaps it's because they are like other perverts who enjoy hurting children.
Melissa Stirling April 26, 2012 at 07:32 PM
How sad that these women are so miserable they, apparentley enjoy tormenting children... Vulnerable children. Very provoking story. Rarely do I hear of something that makes me think, “Hell exists for people like that... God, save me from whatever happened to them.“ But the dad triumphed. He did a world of good by bringing this to light. He is to be commended.
Melissa Stirling April 26, 2012 at 07:48 PM
P.s. My mother, Mrs. Stirling, was a special needs teacher and these kids were a welcome challenge, not a frustration or, in this case target. These women should have been fired right away. They do not represent the spirit of the profession. They are twisted perversions. Most teachers are good, good people. They don't do this hard work for prestige, certianly not pay. My mom constantly spent her own money on school supplies, little rewards for the kids. To have kept these bully teachers on the payroll was a dishonor to the whole profession and to all good teachers.
Just_Me April 26, 2012 at 09:15 PM
@Jgligor & realist - Thank the LORD that neither of you are in charge of our children in any school district..What rock did you crawl out under. This man took a stand for his child whether prior to the recording or after. Those aide's/teacher damned their OWN self by their own words and actions and NOT ONE of them stood up and said STOP. You can hear them laughing this off on this recording. I find it hard to believe that he altered any of this for his own agenda. Neither of you can justify what ALL of us have heard. Seriously, go find another cause to pick apart. Both of your posts & your justifications trying to villianize this father is asinine...
Philip April 27, 2012 at 05:37 AM
It's okay guys... Jgligor and realist have stopped commenting. Obviously they realized that their bull**** was being unheard and probably went to go troll some other article. We know that Stuart is right and that those b*****s were in the wrong. The fact that Jgligor and realist were defending the teachers just shows the types of people that they are. Let's forget about them and get back to the issue which is justice for Aikan and all other children bullied by teachers. Anyhoo... Stuart was completely right to do this and has not done anything wrong. There is no one-sidedness as Kelly says that there is. She called Aikan a MEAN word and that should be enough for firing. Plain and simple. Obviously it is not we need to spread the word - one user posted the superintendent's number and that is a good start. GET THAT "TEACHER" FIRED!!!! CALL THE SUPERINTENDENT! CALL THE SUPERINTENDENT SO MUCH UNTIL HE OR SHE CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE AND FINALLY DO WHAT IS RIGHT!!!!! JUSTICE FOR AIKAN!!!!!!
Porterincollingswood April 27, 2012 at 12:20 PM
I read the teacher has been transferred to another school (I am betting the poorest one in the district) but not fired. Is that correct? Totally understand that the firing process is slow (in the white collar world where bogus wrongful termination suits are difficult to combat no matter what the employee's circumstance), but if this person is in front of kids at the moment...that's an outrage.
ellen strauss April 27, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Transferring a teacher to another school? That is the same thing they did with priests. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I am so excited a suit has been filed under 504. This school district is going to become the POSTER CHILD for what not to do and what happens when discovered. Very exciting.
Kevin April 27, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Jgligor, They are absolutely irrelevant. The content of the tapes speak for themselves at that day/time. And it is inexcusable. You can't change the facts that are on the tape. To heck with the first amendment. So what, he protested peacefully, and or in their view attempt to make things better by running for office. Maybe he was a little extreme in doing so, but it is his right. He is not being unreasonable with his requests in the video. As a father, I'd want their heads on a plate.
Kevin April 27, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I knew I should have read the rest of the posts to see what other garbage you posted jglior. Not worth wasting my time on your moronic though process. Get your head out of the sand.
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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