Sometimes evidence isn’t enough

Daniel Perret-Goluboff

It’s a sorry thing, indeed, when bureaucratic processes can slow or deny the process of bringing justice to someone who has been wronged as horribly as Akian Chaifetz. Akian is a ten-year-old boy who attends Horace Mann Elementary School in New Jersey. Akian, like countless other students in America, suffers from an autism spectrum disorder that limits his ability to communicate verbally. He is also, unfortunately, one of many students in America to have suffered abuse and negligence at the hands of his classroom teachers.

Akian’s story begins with an incident report sent by Horace Mann Elementary to his father, Stuart Chaifetz, alleging that he had been having “violent outbursts” in class and had even gone so far as to strike his teacher and teacher’s aide. As it would any parent, this worried Stuart greatly. Stuart claims that these allegations were against his son’s nature.

Of course, there was a significant gap in communication between Stuart and Akian that prohibited Stuart from gaining a better sense of what could have been causing these issues to arise. Stuart, then, made a controversial decision and sent Akian to school wearing a concealed recording device with the intent of discovering what it could be in his classroom environment that was causing such drastic changes in his behavior. At the risk of cliché, what he found was nothing short of shocking.

The recording that Akian returned home with that day revealed hours upon hours of verbal and mental abuse from both his classroom teacher and his teacher’s aide. The two women in question are allegedly Jodi Sgouros and Kelly Altenburg, who together teach a special education classroom at Horace Mann Elementary. In the recording, which Stuart Chaifetz has posted publically on YouTube, should you care to listen to it yourself, Ms. Sgouros and Ms. Altenburg routinely harass the children by poking fun at their disabilities.

They berate Akian — among other children — for speaking to himself and make fun of him when he begins to cry or become distressed. At multiple points in the recordings duration the two women can even be heard referring to him as a ‘bastard’ and with other profanity.

As though these incidents were not disturbing enough, the two women can also be heard speaking about their alcohol abuse and sex lives in front of their students with astonishing frequency. One would imagine that a recording of a professional engaging in such horrifically inappropriate behaviors would be grounds for immediate termination.

 Apparently not, at least not at Horace Mann Elementary. The teacher’s aide was fired, but the classroom teacher remains employed within the school district — although she has been moved to another classroom. Stuart Chaifetz, surprisingly, is not willing to take the slap in the face of this teacher’s continued employment lying down. He has vowed to continue to attempt legal action against her and against the school until she is removed from the district.

This kind of incident is disturbing but not entirely unique. Cases of teachers bullying special needs students have been arising with an increased frequency as of late in America. I will venture the risk of cliché once more by stating that if you are not a part of the solution here, you are a part of the problem.

There are countless small efforts that we can each put forth to end this injustice. There is a petition available for e-signature at Change.org that I encourage all who read this article to sign. We cannot stand idly by while unqualified bullies make a mockery of educational equality and safety.

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