Kelly Altenburg, a Cherry Hill School District teacher who was accused by a father of being present when his 10-year-old autistic son was verbally abused, said that the accusations are not true and that she never heard any of the alleged remarks.
In a statement released to The Inquirer by her attorney Thursday night, Altenburg said Stuart Chaifetz had been "disingenuous" in his accusations, which he made after sending his son to Horace Mann Elementary School with a recording device on Feb. 17 following reports that the boy was hitting staff.
She said she was in a meeting for the first hour of class when some of the misconduct allegedly occurred.
This week, Chaifetz released two YouTube videos about the incident that have gotten more than a million views and attracted national attention. He demanded that the district fire Altenburg and an aide whom he identified only as Jodi, and that they publicly apologize to his son, Akian.
School officials have said that the people who made the insulting remarks have been fired, though they did not name the individuals. Altenburg is still working for the district, but not at Horace Mann.
Altenburg, who has been a special-education teacher for 23 years, said she only became aware of the alleged insults either after being contacted by the school district or seeing Chaifetz's first video, in which he claims a staff member said, "Oh, Akian, you are a bastard" on the recording.
"These accusations have hurt her deeply, and she has asked us to set the record straight," said the statement from lawyer Matthew B. Wieliczko.
Altenburg had been silent until now.
Reached Thursday night, Chaifetz insisted Altenburg was a party to the bullying.
"She can't get away from this," he said, adding that he had several hours more of tape in which she is mentioned, but that he could not yet release because other children were involved and he hadn't talked to their parents.
"I have audio tape, and if I have to prove it, I will," he said of the allegations. "If she's going to challenge me, I will rise to the challenge."
Chaifetz says he sent his son to school with the recording device after months of being told his son was hitting staff even though he did not believe the boy, who has limited ability to talk, was violent.
When he listened to the 61/2-hour audio, he said, he was shocked to hear people bullying his son, saying "Shut up" and "Go ahead and scream, because guess what, you're going to get nothing until your mouth is shut."
Chaifetz said the aide talked in class about drinking the night before and said "Shut your mouth" to Akian in an angry-sounding voice. The boy could be heard crying and upset at times, he said.
In addition to the videos, the irate father, who is also an animal-rights activist, posted an online petition calling for legislation that would require educators who bully students to be fired.
Chaifetz maintains that even if Altenburg was present when his son was mistreated and didn't say anything, she was responsible for the boy's protection. At the time of the recording, Akian was in a self-contained class for autistic students, all of whom had some level of communication impairment.
On Tuesday, the school district issued a statement saying that the people who were heard on the February 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" from Chaifetz.
Contact staff member Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or email@example.com.