Cherry Hill father's online video complaint sparks legislative move

Posted: May 04, 2012

New Jersey State Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington) said Wednesday that she planned to introduce legislation soon that would make it easier to fire educators who bully their students.

“My hope is that we can get it through very quickly,” said Allen, a prime sponsor of the state’s existing anti-bullying law.

The legislation Allen said she was drafting was inspired by the recent case of the Cherry Hill father who captured Horace Mann Elementary School staff making hostile and inappropriate statements through a recording device he put in his autistic son’s pocket. The father, Stuart Chaifetz, an animal-rights activist and former school board candidate, made a video that contained portions of the audio recording and posted it last week on YouTube. The video went viral, getting nearly 4.4 million hits and much media attention.

Chaifetz also posted an online petition that has drawn over 150,000 signatures calling for such a law. He also called for public apologies from the staff involved.

Last week, Chaifetz said his son Akian’s classroom teacher should be dismissed because he thought she was at least present when some verbally abusive statements were made to his son. Later in the week, attorneys for the teacher, Kelly Altenburg, put out a statement that she was in a meeting when the abusive statements were made. Chaifetz then said he planned to go through the 6½ hours of recording to look for comments made in Altenburg’s presence. He said he would possibly post them.

On Wednesday, however, Chaifetz said he was standing down, at least for now. He said he had spoken to a representative of the Cherry Hill School District who assured him the district was seriously continuing its investigation. One aide heard on the Feb. 17 recording resigned and a substitute aide was not invited back shortly after Chaifetz gave the district the recorded material, according to superintendent Maureen Reusche. A third aide and the teacher were placed on leave last week, pending the results of the district’s investigation.

“I have decided to allow them the space they need” to complete their investigation, Chaifetz said.

He also plans to work toward getting anti-bullying legislation passed, saying it is needed.

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

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