Father Wires Son To Record Teacher Abuses

Eric Henney applauds Stuart Chaifetz, the father who wired his 10 year-old son in order to record the abuse children were suffering in their special education classroom.

Stuart Chaifetz’s son, Akian, is 10 years old and autistic. He is enrolled at Horace Mann Elementary School, in a self-contained class for children with various learning disabilities. Contrary to what Stu sees as a playful and respectful demeanor in his son, Akian’s teachers started sending notes home about his disruptive behavior—hitting teachers, throwing chairs. After a meeting with both teachers and administrators, a behaviorist started shadowing Akian. During that time he did not observe, nor could he successfully incite replication of, the alleged behavior.

The cause of Akian’s behavior therefore remained a mystery to both his father and the behaviorist. So on February 17, 2012, in a move that remains morally murky, Stuart sent Akian to school with a wire. When he returned home, Stuart reviewed the audio collected, about six and a half hours in all.

He heard teachers and aides calling Akian and other children “bastard,” “tard,” and “damn dumb.” He also heard them talking to each other about their binge drinking and husband issues, and telling Akian to “shut [his] mouth.” (Akian can speak, but, like many autistic children, can’t always satisfactorily express himself.)

To understand what are perhaps their worst offenses, though—the offenses that most likely set Akian’s bad behavior off—you need to understand that Stuart is a single parent. Akian sees his mother every other week. So on weekends when he will see his mother, he will occasionally ask, “May I see Dad after Mom?”

“No.”

That’s what is told to an emotionally fragile 10-year old whose parents are divorced, and who can’t always understand the structure of his custody. No.

Stuart quickly brought the tapes to the attention of Horace Mann’s administration, who fired one aide but reassigned the other teachers involved. Dissatisfied, he uploaded a video to YouTube and started Teacher/Bully to tell his son’s story. He isn’t out for blood, but he does want justice and transparency. I strongly encourage you to check out both the site and video.

There are a number of unsettling elements to this case. One of them is that most of the people who either harassed or were complicit in the harassment of students like Akian are still in the school district. Another is that this incidents like this occur far too often. (There have been at least 9 similar cases in the last decade.) Perhaps the most stubborn element is that prevailing sentiments toward children and adults with special needs usually deny their humanity by being either harsh and unsympathetic or infantilizing. There’s a ton to tease out of this story, and I’m interested in hearing what you all have to say.

Now I don’t want to seem like I am appropriating what is a truly terrible situation for our philosophical and social concerns here at GMP. But here’s the thing: Stuart Chaifetz is a good man. His methods are not perfect, and he is still trying to figure out how best to turn his situation into a rallying cause. We don’t want to forget that. But his sense of dedication and passion for the protection of his son’s right to be treated like a human being, and his desire to give voice to frustrated parents like him, make Stuart a damn good man.

 

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About Eric Henney

Eric Henney is a freelance writer. He writes about the things he thinks about, which focus a lot on some things and not very much on other things. He has written about film, TV, books, festivals, and food for publications like Philadelphia City Paper. Follow Eric on Twitter @EHerbertHenney, and visit his website at erichenney.wordpress.com.

Comments

  1. I don't know says:

    Wow. I got far worse than that from a few of my teachers, classmates, and even my parents. And yet Mr. Chaifetz’s anger seems way overblown to me.

    Wait a minute, I guess that makes sense in a sick way. My experiences were abnormal, and thus my emotions and point of view are abnormal.

    Kudos to Mr. Chaifetz. He’s doing what I probably wouldn’t have thought of.

  2. As an autistic adult who also struggled like Aiken in school and had authority figures who were so mercilessly cruel in ways you couldn’t imagine back in the past, I want to say “Give Mr. Chaifetz a medal”. Please, commend him to the highest degree. He’s not only a great, loving dad, he’s also a great parent willing to go to bat for his autistic son.

    If only people like him were around to defend me when I was getting yelled at, verbally abused, and mainpulated by those careworkers, therapists, and teachers who failed to even listen to my problems.

    I Don’t Know: “Wow. I got far worse than that from a few of my teachers, classmates, and even my parents. And yet Mr. Chaifetz’s anger seems way overblown to me.”

    I think it’s perfectly justified.

    His ten year old son is already going through a difficult period enough as it is. For the teachers to mock him, tell him “No” to his question of seeing his father after his mother (something he really needs reassurance for. I can’t blame him) and then one calling him a bastard, that’s a disgusting thing you can do to a child having difficulty adjusting to the life changes a divorce brings to the support environment, regardless of whether he’s autistic or not.

    Also to Eric Henney, the writer of this article: You read my mind. I was just thinking of doing an article like yours about this man and his situation for The Good Men Project. You beat me to it. Darn.

    Oh well. :)

  3. I don’t think there’s any murkiness to the morality of Chaifetz’s decision. He was 100% correct in doing what was necessary to protect his son, particularly since his son is not always capable of expressing himself. Teachers can be great people who inspire and motivate, and sometimes they have bad days like everyone else. But this wasn’t one bad day, Akien had persisting problems as a result of his horrible teachers and aides. Any teacher who displays continued abusive behaviour should be exposed and fired.

  4. I have a son that has been diagnosed with down syndrome. He is 3 years old and every day I fear that he might be treated this way (or be treated even worse). I am so glad that you spoke up. I had heard of another child with down syndrome that had been physically abused. The mother found out and called the police. The school wanted to transfer the teacher, but she fought and fought until they finally fired him. There should only be special teachers teaching special kids. Hence the word “special.” These people don’t have any business being around any children; special or not. I know what it is like to have a child not be able to speak, but can communicate through behaviour. Best of luck!

  5. Stuart Chaifetz deserves a medal, praise and more support. Where does he get an award for being a Good Dad?

    He wants the Law Changed – and here is why:

    A child shall not be considered abused pursuant to subsection f. of this section if the acts or omissions described therein occur in a day school as defined in section 1 of P.L.1974, c. 119 (C. 9:6-8.21). New Jersey Statutes regarding child abuse

    By New Jersey law, Akain Chaifetz was abused, subjected to child cruelty and yet because it was in a school it did not happen!

    That is what it means to be made “Invisible” in full sight of The Law.

    Is your child being made invisible as soon as they enter their school?

    No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. – it says so, three times over, in International Conventions that The US Government Support and preach, and yet because it says “Not In A School In New Jersey” abuse is covered over – Akain Chaifetz is made a none person.

    Mr Chaifetz’ actions have given a glimps trough a very narrow crack into the reality of so many disabled people – and they are not just children. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse – cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment.

    On CNN he called it a “Culture Of Cruelty” – and he is so very correct to call it that.

    What Mr Chaifetz identifies is abuse that is distinctly Psychological – it meets the international definitions of torture, it breaches the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The UN Conventions On The Rights Of The Child and The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – all of which are ratified by the US Government – but they don’t apply in a New Jersey School Room.

    Mr Chaifetz has made a mistake though – he wants a Public Apology and people to take Responsibility. If they were capable or interested in that, they would not have abused Akian in the first place.

    He speaks of the “Rules of Silence”, but that is all legal juggling. People will not be fired or made to resign, because that could be taken as an admission of liability. The only way to achieve the outcome he wants, and which Akian deserves, is to file suit – sue – don’t settle out of court and make it all very public. Then he may be able to gain enough support to gain the legal changes he wants – Nationally.

    Sue Fast – Sue Early – Sue Often!

    I wish Mr Chaifetz all the best, but given that some people have retained attorneys and will be juggling even harder now with that law. He needs full and tenacious representation to protect his aims and determination, else it will all be pushed underground and that crack with a glimmer of light will be papered over all over again.

  6. Autumn14710 says:

    I went through something 10 x this bad as a kid with adhd and dyslexia. In 2nd grade my teacher screamed at me, would throw my desk, not let me go to play time, and called me stupid. I was to young to tell my parents and thought it was my fault. My Mom pulled me out of school until the school would send me for test. They had already labeled me and wanted to leave it at that. Saying I would never be able to read or take normal classes. They didn’t want to spent the money or the hassle for the rite diagnosis. I tested in the genius levels for intelligence when they finally sent me. When the teachers were confronted they all covered up for each other. Nothing ever happened to them. The absuse continued on for many many other children. I know this because in 4th grade my classroom was next door to my old 2nd grade class room and we could ofter hear children crying and Miss Hint yelling. When ever the children acted out it was a poor reflection on them and they were repremanded. When I started middle school it happened again with the special education teacher. They dismissed my claims again and I was documented as an uncooperative and naught child. One of the things that got me into the most trouble was sticking up for other kids that were disable and couldn’t do it for themselves. When I reported her as a bully the school documented that I didn’t like her because she was not “warm”. She retired 5 years later without any consequence.

    I wish I had worn a wire!

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