Fearing mistreatment of their children with disabilities at school, parents across the country have taken to fitting their kids with hidden devices to capture a day in their lives at school.
Among the mundane teacher-student interactions are the sounds of slapping, taunting voices, talk about the best recipes for martinis, and selected reading from an article that refers to the inadequate size of a sexual organ.
In the most recent case, Stuart Chaifetz, a New Jersey father of a 10-year-old with autism, Akian, sent his son to school with a wire in February, after school staff said the boy was being violent in school, the Daily Dot reported.
The behavior was out of character for Akian, and even a behaviorist couldn’t provoke him into acting the same way outside of class.
To get to the root of what was causing his son to act this way—Akian and other students in his class speak very little—Chaifetz fitted his son with wire.
Chaifetz’s recording captured staff calling his son a “bastard” and telling him to shut his mouth. School staff were heard talking negatively about parents, and they were caught talking about alcohol.
The story reminded me immediately of a case in Atlanta, where the parents of then-10-year-old Stefan Ferrari, who also has autism, recorded several days of their son’s life at school in 2008. Stefan doesn’t speak.
That recording caught Stefan’s teacher and colleagues talking about sex and sharing recipes for dirty martinis. It reflected Stefan being teased for eating pizza from the trash, and the threat of a “‘be-quiet hit’ to a crying child, followed by the repeated slaps of an adult’s hand against Stefan’s bottom,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
In one part of the recording, the teacher reads aloud from a magazine advice column: “The man I am dating is intelligent and he opens the door for me and he puts up with my moodiness, but he has a small penis,” she says.
While Akian’s father told the Daily Dot that he doesn’t plan to sue, Stefan’s parents did. Eventually, a lower court judge ruled that Stefan was “intentionally injured in that classroom by trauma ... and he was verbally abused,” and ordered the school district to pay for Stefan’s education in private schools through age 22.
The school district then sued Stefan’s parents and eventually the parties settled out of court. The AJC reported that though the terms were confidential, court records indicate the district will pay the Ferraris’ legal bills—about $236,000—in addition to almost $800,000 for its own lawyers, plus other expenses. The records said the district also will place “a certain amount of money,” into a trust fund for Stefan’s education. (There’s a lot more to this case for sure. Read the complete AJC story.)
In Akian’s case, his father told the Daily Dot that the Cherry Hill, N.J., district has transferred an aide and teacher to another school within the district. In Atlanta, Stefan’s teacher was eventually fired.
In this video, Akian’s father describes what led him to record his son’s day at school and includes bits of the recording.
And in yet another case in Ohio, the mother of a teenage student with developmental disabilities sent her daughter to school with a recording device to prove a teacher and school aide were bullying her, the Associated Press reported.
A teacher and aide in the Miami Trace Local District are heard questioning Cheyanne about her weight and how active she is and commenting on her character and the character of her mother and her boyfriend.
“Are you that damn dumb? Are you that dumb?” the aide is heard saying. “Oh, my God. You are such a liar. ... You told me you don’t know. It’s no wonder you don’t have friends. No wonder nobody likes you. Because you lie, cheat ... steal.”
In another instance, the teacher talks to the girl about the results of a test. “You know what? Just keep it,” she said. “You failed it. I know it. I don’t need your test to grade. You failed it.”
The aide eventually resigned, the Washington Court House Record Herald reported. The teacher was suspended from working for a year, and the district settled a lawsuit filed by the girl’s family for $300,000.
I have never taught students with disabilities, and I can only imagine that it is difficult, frustrating, under-compensated work that many of these teachers aren’t fully prepared for, but presumably there are at least a few moments of delight and inspiration, too. I hate to think, though, that parents feel obligated to record their children’s days at school to ensure their safety.
Or is this what it has come to?
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.