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Autistic boy's father: Why hasn't teacher been fired over 'bullying'?

The father of an autistic boy allegedly bullied by staff at a New Jersey school has vowed to keep campaigning until the teacher of his son's class has her license revoked.

Stuart Chaifetz, 44, put a wire on his son Akian, 10, and recorded staff in his class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Cherry Hill calling the child "a bastard," talking about vomiting that morning due to a hangover, and apparently teasing the child to the point where he had a "half-hour meltdown."

At least one classroom aide reportedly lost her job and on Tuesday Superintendent Maureen Reusche said she wanted "to assure our parents that the individuals who are heard on the 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.”

But Chaifetz then said he had discovered that the teacher of his son's class, Kelly Altenburg, was moved to another school and not fired, while a teachers union official told msnbc.com that Altenburg "basically was exonerated."

On Thursday, Reusche and the education board president issued a statement saying it disagreed with the union official and "the District does not consider the matter closed at this time as the investigation remains ongoing."

Chaifetz, an investigator with an animal protection group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, believes Altenburg was one of those making offensive comments in the classroom, and as the teacher in charge she should be held responsible for what he considers bullying behavior by other staff.

"When did teachers become more important than children?" he said.

"Even if she said nothing, she should be fired because that room was her responsibility," he added.

Chaifetz decided to put a wire on Akian after staff repeatedly complained the child was hitting them and throwing chairs around. He could not understand why his "wonderful, happy" son would act in this way and decided to find out what was going on in the class. Akian's autism meant he was unable to explain.

Chaifetz, speaking in a YouTube video that contained clips from the February recording, said the tape revealed that staff at the school were "literally making my son's life a living hell." 

"Okay, Akian, you are a bastard," was one comment on the tape from a woman Chaifetz said he's "99 percent" sure was the teacher.

"Go ahead and scream, because guess what? You are going to get nothing until your mouth is shut," a woman's voice was heard saying in another exchange.

He also recorded a conversation between two people in the class talking about the consequences of a night out drinking wine with a friend. 

"You know what I was doing this morning?" said one woman. "Heaving?" asked the other. "Oh my God, so bad. The wine won."

Steve Wollmer, communications director for the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, told msnbc.com that Altenburg "basically was exonerated" and said Chaifetz "doesn't perhaps understand exactly what happened there."

Wollmer said Altenburg had been reassigned to another school.

"My understanding is the board did that because they wanted to avoid any further contact between parents and her in the class because this guy has stirred up concern among parents," he said.

Wollmer said the association had not been asked to represent Altenburg because "she's not implicated in what's raging out there on the Internet."

Speaking in general terms, Wollmer said that "before people accuse people of things, they want to know if they're accusing them fairly or accurately."

"What if she were not present at the time? There were teacher aides involved in this. What if she were not in that immediate part of the room? If you don't witness something, how can you stop it?" he said.

Altenburg's attorney, Matthew B. Wieliczko, said that "at this time, we have no comment," when contacted by msnbc.com.

 

"I'm not letting this go. I will take this to the department of education and get her license revoked so she cannot work anywhere else," Chaifetz said.

"I think there need to be offenses that teachers get fired for, regardless of tenure or not," he added. "When you can prove bullying by a teacher, tenure should be meaningless."

Child 'doing much better'
Akian has now left Horace Mann, and Chaifetz said he was "doing much better now he's away from there."

"He doesn't have any of the behaviors he had then. It only happened when he was with the teacher, Kelly Altenburg, and the aide," he said. "But I think he's got some scars from this. How could he not?"

The YouTube video containing clips from the recording had more than 2.9 million views as of 9 a.m. ET Thursday, and an online petition to "pass legislation so that teachers who bully children are immediately fired" had 111,000 signatures.

Chaifetz said the response has had been "overwhelming."

Dad wires up autistic son, 10, to expose 'bullying' by teaching staff

"There are so many wonderful people, people with stories of them being bullied, they are coming in every hour, hundreds of emails," he said. "This is really pervasive. There's a lot of bullying, there's a lot of bullying of special needs kids. It's like an epidemic."

He said his son's case had "opened up a big window into what's going on."

"People feel like they're alone," he said. "One positive thing that has come out of this: They saw a parent standing up and it's helping them stand up too."

The Associated Press has found at least nine similar cases across the U.S. since 2003. It said parents of special needs students had secretly recorded teachers using insults like "bastard," "tard," "damn dumb" and "a hippo in a ballerina suit." A bus driver threatened to slap one child, while a bus monitor told another, "Shut up, you little dog."

Chaifetz said he had given advice to "a couple" of other parents on how to put a wire on their child, after they contacted him about it, but cautioned people to check to laws in their state.

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