April 26th, 2012
11:46 PM ET

Father of autistic bullying victim speaks out

Stuart Chaifetz is the father of a 10-year-old boy who’s been diagnosed with autism. His son, Akian, was repeatedly sent home from school with notes from teachers complaining of violent outbursts. Chaifetz became suspicious because the behavior described in the notes didn't match up with the son he knew, and so one day he sent Akian to school wired with a recording device. He says the recording proves his child was being bullied and abused by staff members.

AC360 has picked up this story because we take bullying very seriously, and the thought of a special-needs teacher bullying a student is clearly disturbing. And there are some difficult moments picked up on the tape. For example, at one point an unidentified adult female, caught on tape, says to Akian, "You are a bastard."

Stuart Chaifetz brought the recording to the attention of the school board in his town, Cherry Hill, New Jersey. As a result, administrators fired one of the two aides who were overheard on the recordings. The other aide, along with teacher Kelly Altenburg, were transferred.

The school district first responded to the events that took place with this statement: "I want 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." And today, they released another statement, after Altenburg's mere transfer seemed by some to equate with an exoneration: "While we cannot legally comment specifically on personnel matters, the District does not consider the matter closed at this time as the investigation remains on-going."

To respond to all of this, Stuart Chaifetz joined Anderson on the show tonight. Also, an expert on these matters– Arevea Martin, a disability rights attorney and children's advocate.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Anderson Cooper
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Beth Lowery

    My only son is four and is autistic. He is part of a special needs program. I have met all his teachers and aids, and I think they are all wonderful people. But, I've seen SO many of these stories on the news in the last year or so. I won't yank him from the program out of sheer panic, but I worry so much now. I remember the terrible people who were my high school teachers (one watched a bully slam a chair into my back three times and call me names and the teacher just laughed at me. I beat the snot out of the bully and the teacher kicked ME out of class.) and I worry even more. I've never felt so alone in this, a single mother with an autistic son. People just tell me it's "sensationalism". But that doesn't make me feel better. Teachers are people, and people can be dasterdly and foul. What's a mom to do, huh?

    May 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  2. Stephen

    Stuart, I commend your efforts and as so many others can clearly understand right where you're coming from! In another comment someone mentioned that this may be an isolated incident ( which is highly unlikely ) but how would you like to tell that to Stuarts son ??????? Even if it was only once then it's still one too many times to EVER happen to a child let alone an autiistic child at that. BTW, as the report states the teachers kept sending home notes complaining of this Autistic childs behavior so the idea of this happening only once is pretty much shot out the window if you ask me. Ask yourself the question, what would you do if you saw someone abusing a child in the mall, on the street or anywhere in publc ? Would you stand up for that child ?? Again, good job Stuart and we are all rooting for you and your son !!!!!!!!!!!

    April 29, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  3. Francesca

    The audio tape of Akian Chaifetz, being verbally and emotionally abused by a teacher, Kelly, evoked a parental instinct deep inside of me that I had to respond. I feel that teachers, such as these, should be exorcised from our schools systems, forever and without pay or benefits. If you are offended, please forgive me, as this is not my intention; change is.
    The Cherry Hill School and district should be ashamed of themselves. How dare they consider themselves part of our beloved teaching establishment, whose intent, is to lovingly, nurture our children. When their school or district does not hold the teachers accountable for their conduct; regardless of tenure, they all should be hung out to dry! The behavior exhibited by the Cherry Hill teacher, who is abusive to autistic children, is beyond any words. Not only was she behaving in such a vile manner, she was encouraged by other employees, of Cherry Hill School. You cannot tell me, that other teachers were not was aware of this, disgusting and inappropriate conduct. The American People deserve better teachers than this. WE need to clean house in the school systems throughout the USA. Do away with tenure, the unions, and or the laws that protect BAD teachers... The GOOD teachers know who they are… ask them? But because of the power of the unions… change will not happen. Adults need to start defending our children. Change will only happen when WE (citizens of the USA) make those changes, in spite of the Unions.

    April 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  4. Jim R

    My heart goes out to the parents of the child...my mother worked in a state facility that took excellent care of special needs patients and I have always admired parents with special needs children. I hope justice is served swiftly and fairly. God bless the parents.

    April 28, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  5. Leo

    The other aide, along with teacher Kelly Altenburg, were transferred? Outrageous, these people should be fired immediately.

    April 28, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  6. Raigh Anderson

    Bullying is a learned behavior...bullying is not an inborn action. Children learn by mimicking their parents at home, teachers and people who surround them and their world. The bullies and their caregivers need counseling to address this inappropiate behavior. If counseling is unsuccessful then the courts should intervene.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  7. (Bev. Janice) Janna M.Fudala

    That is so good that the father,of Akian, found out about the abuse going on at the school. It took 6 mths. for the father to find out, but that is better than at a much later time. That is good to hear how Akian's father was able to help his son to not get bullied by his teachers anymore.

    April 27, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  8. Tew2010

    I don't understand transferring the others. They will continue to abuse in their new positions.

    April 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  9. cajm43

    This father captured an abuse which happened on a particular day and time. Could this be an isolated incident that he just happened to record or is this happening in numerous places every day? Of course it is. There should be a law which mandates video cameras (web cams) in every classroom where there are special needs kids. Especially children (like mine) that are autistic and non-verbal.– Carlo M (PA)

    April 27, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • dianawelsh

      The father only did the recording because of an ongoing pattern of behavior in his son, not seen nor able to be reproduced even by a therapist anywhere else. So the chances of this being an isolated incident are very low.

      April 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  10. avi

    Good Job Daddy!!!Teachers should be fined with heavy money...

    April 27, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  11. Kim Grijalva

    I am so moved by this parent and I applaud his savvy in doing what he's done to support and protect his child. Shame on the district, the teacher and certainly the aids who behaved in such a cruel manner. You go dad!!!

    April 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  12. RHP

    wow thats crazie! I also have an 11 year old daughter with Autism and she is also non-verbal. This story really makes me think of my childs care in school. Since she is unable to tell me or express herself. wow still in shock..Those teachers should never ever teach special needs kids again.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  13. Jahnie

    My daughter has Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the Autism Spectrum and I have definitely seen/heard of many instances where she was not treated fairly... I wish I had done more about it. I am a very involved parent and fight for my daughter any time I can and/or feel it is needed, but unfortunately, looking back, there are things that I let slide that I now wish I hadn't!! She is 17 years old now and my heart still breaks from all the cruelty that she had to endure over the years. I love you for sticking up for your son the way you did!

    April 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  14. kashi

    Forget about firing these abusive people, I fail to understand why they have not been arrested and charged with child abuse and human rights violations. If it were a PARENT treating their child that way and the school found out, the school would surely have taken tht step...have cps remove tthe child from the home and charge the parent with child abuse.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  15. Brandy1

    My daughter is in CH West and has had issues with at least 4 teachers in the past 6 years. This year she has another one who is MOODY and spiteful to kids. She told me this morning that West is not allowed to speak about this bully issue, she said there was a rumor that this teacher is now working in West. Just heard on the news not 1/2 hour after she left for school that it's true. This teacher was transferred to West. This is discipline action? Cherry Hill school district was never for safety before education but it sickens me that though my kid is almost finished school, that this teacher is in her school. As I have always said, the laws are there to protect the criminals, not the innocent.

    April 27, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  16. Sarah Wiley

    I cannot believe that ALL of the people responsible for this horrible mistreatment and bullying were not immediately fired and formally charged with a crime. If a parent can be charged with child endangerment/neglect/abuse, and permanently have that on their record, for leaving their child in a car for a few seconds (WHICH I absolutely agree with!), how on earth can treatment such as this clear verbal abuse, and God only knows what else, be left unpunished. Thank you for shining so much light on this Anderson. I love your focus, as well as Ellen Degeneres' focus, on bullying. You are doing the right thing on this!

    April 27, 2012 at 5:49 am |
  17. John

    We need to develop garments for kids which have surveillance technology built right in. Perhaps a non-profit could fund development and make sure that kids with the greatest need are provided for. Most of the hardware is small enough to fit in a waistband or a shoe at this point. Hell, if Warren Buffett thinks so little of his money, let him fund it.

    April 27, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  18. sandra

    Mr. Chaifetz has successfully uncovered "bullying at it's worst". A professionally trained teacher with a degree in Special Education who is a bully and a district like so many others willing to excuse the behavior a teacher but FIRE immediately the lesser educated assistant or para-professionally who probably does not have a degree or training in special education. Districts are unfair in their policy practices when it relates to its classified staff members. Why is it that all the abuse we've been hearing in education goes un-punished. In Dubuque, Iowa there was an assistant principal who face charges for having an inappropriate affair with an under age minor and it seemed since he was legally charged he would be fired. But I believe he was simply able to resign. I believe at the state and federal level changes must be made in order to force school districts across the nation to "fire" abusive teachers. It is a politically corrupt institution which needs careful attention. One child was saved here, but others enduring abuse may not be able to be identified due to non-verbal skills or fear. Thank you for giving public air time to the challenges some parents face when trying to correct unfair practices or even abuse with a school district.

    April 27, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  19. Janice Richardson

    It is harder to do the right thing against people doing the wrong thing. The Cherry Hill School District and Union are protecting the teacher. They moved her to the high School Cherry Hill West and lied to the public saying that the "individuals heard on the tape were no longer employed in the district." there is proof in paychecks, a board meeting and a telephone extension in her name..
    It is a sad day when you can't trust your school district.

    April 27, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  20. Jason

    I have a 9 year old daughter that was paddled by the Middle Valley Elementary School principal when she was 5 in Hixson, Tennessee. Did I mention that my daughter is disabled with an IEP from the school board? My daughter has a developmental speech impediment at the time was so severe that she was difficult to understand. Also, my ex-wife was taking our daughter to a neurologist for seizures at the time of the incident. My ex-wife and I spoke to the superintendent, and he justified that Tennessee can use corporal punishment according to Tennessee law. We got no apology, and the principle was allowed to continue discipline children. What I would like to know is how does a parent seek legal action in a situation like this?

    April 27, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  21. Shari

    This is so disturbing. It has motivated me to ask more questions about school aides' background, training and supervision. We cannot wait until our children show symptoms of abuse!

    April 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm |