A Cherry Hill father said he sent his autistic son to school with a recording device and has posted a video of what resulted on YouTube. He said school staff can be heard speaking inappropriately in class and using bullying language toward his son.
Now, he said, he wants the staffers involved to publicly apologize to his son, and has posted an online petition calling for legislation that would require educators who bully students to be fired.
Stuart Chaifetz, an animal-rights activist, said he sent his son Akian, 10, to Horace Mann Elementary School with the device on Feb. 17 after several months of reports that the boy was hitting staff. He said he had not known his son to be violent.
"That night when I listened to the audio, my life changed forever," said Chaifetz, a former Cherry Hill school board candidate.
Some of what Chaifetz said he heard on the tape is not clearly audible in the video or other recorded material he has put on the Internet. A woman who he said was a classroom aide can be heard talking about drinking the night before, speaking in an angry-sounding voice, and saying "shut your mouth" to a student who he said was his son.
Chaifetz said he heard a child he said was his son crying and getting upset at times during the 6½-hour recording. He said another woman who he said was his son's teacher made comments he considered to be insensitive to his son and made his son upset. He said the staff had personal conversations in front of the children that he considered inappropriate. He accused the staff of having those conversations because the children in that special education class had communication limitations that could keep them from repeating what they heard.
Shortly after the taping, Chaifetz said, he turned the recording over to the school district. He said he was not formally informed by the district of what action was taken, but he said he had heard that one aide was fired, and he believed the teacher was reassigned.
Cherry Hill schools spokeswoman Susan Bastnagel would not confirm either action.
"This is a personnel matter that the district took seriously and handled quickly and appropriately," she said in an e-mail. She declined to elaborate.
The boy's mother, who is divorced from Chaifetz, commented in an e-mail on condition she would not be named. "I wanted this to remain a personal matter," she said. "All I will say though is that I thought the Cherry Hill School District handled things with my son satisfactorily."
Chaifetz said he took his son out of the school after the taping. He said another parent gave him a letter that appeared to have been written by the principal noting "inappropriate adult conversation" in the class and the appointment of new staff.
In the video and other material Chaifetz posted online, he uses only first names for the staff, who could not be reached for comment.
Chaifetz said the district officials he dealt with seemed to be concerned, and speculated that tenure rules kept them from taking other action.
He said he decided to make the video and post it online after he recently realized that no further action was likely. He called on the teacher and the staff who had been present to resign.
He said he did not intend to file a lawsuit.
"This is not about money. ... This is to reclaim my son's dignity," he said.