Cherry Hill father fires new online salvo at school district

Posted: April 26, 2012

Stepping up an online campaign that has garnered well over a million views, the Cherry Hill father who sent his autistic son to elementary school wearing an audio recording device that he says captured staff being verbally abusive has posted a second video. In it, he names the teacher he says is on the recording and offers what he calls evidence that she still works for the district.

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 Stuart Chaifetz.

The district did not name the individuals it referred to or specify what was done about them.

On Chaifetz’s new YouTube video, which he said he made after the district came out with its statement, he places a call on a cellular phone, gets a recorded response that says he has reached Cherry Hill High School West, appears to dial an extension, and gets a recording that indicates he has reached the voice mailbox of a person with the name of his son’s former teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School. Previously, he said he believed a classroom aide had been fired but not the teacher.

“I am releasing this now because I have to justify the purpose of this campaign and to show I wasn’t wrong,” Chaifetz, an animal-rights activist and former school board candidate, says in his latest video. Chaifetz’s former wife, the son’s mother, has said she does not want to be involved in his online campaign and believes the district acted appropriately.

Chaifetz alleges that some of the verbally abusive comments on the tape were made by the classroom teacher. However, he said, even if she didn’t say anything, “she was responsible for the protection of my son, and she betrayed him.” At the time of the recording, his son Akian, 10, was in a self-contained class for autistic students. Chaifetz said all the students had some level of communication impairment.

Neither Cherry Hill school officials nor the head of the Cherry Hill Education Association had substantive comment Wednesday.

“This is a personnel matter, and we do represent the teacher in this case,” said union president Martin Sharofsky. Asked if that meant the teacher was still employed with the district, he said, “We don’t just walk away from people,” but would not say if that meant she still had a job with the district.

Calls to a lawyer who a reporter learned was representing the teacher were not returned.

The Inquirer has not named the staff accused by Chaifetz because they could not be independently linked to the individual voices on the recording, which at times are unclear.

On his initial video, which has now gotten over 1.5 million hits, Chaifetz plays parts of the audio recording, transcribes other segments, and tells the viewer who he believes is speaking at any given time. Since posting the first video early this week, he said he has heard from many parents who want to learn about wiring their children and who support his campaign.

A number of state legislators have called for further investigation by the district. On Wednesday, Assemblyman Dave Rible (R., Monmouth-Ocean) urged movement on a bill he has introduced aimed at improving special education programs for public school students. He also called for a thorough investigation by Cherry Hill officials of the Horace Mann matter.

Contact Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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