Cherry Hill Education Officials Break Silence On Bullying Of Autistic Boy
Cherry Hill education officials broke their silence on Friday to clarify the status of the staff heard speaking inappropriately in the classroom of the 10 year old autistic son on an audio recording made by parent Stuart Chaifetz.
The teachers and aides were actually placed on leave “to minimize disruption in our schools” while an investigation continues according to a new statement issued by Cherry Hill public schools.
“While our investigation continues, all individuals working in the classroom on the date in question have been either been placed on leave to minimize disruption to our schools, or no longer work for the District.
A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION
The update gave new meaning to a statement issued Tuesday night by Cherry Hill Superintendent Dr. Maureen Reusche which said in part, “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.”
Many interpreted the statement to mean the staff were not longer employed.
Stuart Chaifetz jumped on the Tueday statement shortly after it was issued and offered proof in a second video that one teacher in the case, Kelly Altenburg, was still working in the Cherry Hill school district. Townsquare Media also posted the agenda of a Board of Education meeting on March 27 indicating Altenburg had been reassigned to Cherry Hill West high school from the Horace Mann Intermediate School.
The Friday statement also points out that “New Jersey law provides protection to tenured employees against immediate dismissal.”
KELLY ALTENBURG DENIAL
An attorney for Altenburg, Matthew Wieliczko, held a press conference Friday to reiterate a statement first issued Thursday night during Stuart Chaifetz’s appearance on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 that it is not her voice heard on the recording made by Aiken Chaifetz on February 17 after his father put a recording device on him.
“The first time that Mrs. Altenburg became aware of these statements, or alleged statements, was either when she was contacted by the school administration concerning the covert recording…or just after the posting of Mr. Chaifetz’ first YouTube video,” the attorney’s statement said. According to the Courier-Post.Wieliczko said his client has “fully cooperated” with the school district’s investigation and she is hurt “deeply” by the accusations of bullying.
HE SAID, SHE SAID
“Kelly Altenburg did not say those things to that student and she was not in the classroom when those words were said to the student,” said Wieliczko at a press conference. Responds Chaifetz, “I’ve got the worst clip of bullying..the one that made him cry the most happened at a little after 11AM. How do they explain that?”
“She’s having a bad time? My son had a really, really bad time in her class,” said Stuart Chaifetz.
Altenburg has also had to call police to her home several times since the video was first released although Wieliczko did not elaborate.
The attorney also said he’d heard from a Minnesota man whose 23-year-old daughter — a student teacher also named Kelly Altenburg — has been wrongly identified at some websites as the Cherry Hill educator.
“Her father said she’s receiving frequent calls from the media and the public, and he asked me to make it clear that she’s not part of this.”
FULL STATEMENT FROM THE CHERRY HILL SCHOOL DISTRICT
The following statement was issued by the Cherry Hill school district on Friday, April 27
In light of the continuing concern and media coverage of the situation that took place at Horace Mann Elementary School, the Cherry Hill Board of Education and Administration would like to make the following statement:
The Board of Education and Administration deeply regret the actions that took place in the classroom at Horace Mann Elementary. First and foremost, we share the dismay and concern expressed by members of our community. What happened in the classroom is not excusable and should not have happened. We do not condone this type of behavior in any form, in any place, by any person associated with our District. Following a complete investigation of the matter, which we must stress is continuing, we will be introspective and determine what we can learn from this incident.
At this time, as the result of the additional media attention given to this matter, some of it inaccurate, we would like to emphasize the following facts:
- The Administration, with the assistance of counsel, is continuing to investigate what occurred in the classroom in question. Since the evidence presented is audio only, it is imperative that the improper conduct identified on the recording is correctly identified to the person(s) who committed the conduct.
- While our investigation continues, all individuals working in the classroom on the date in question have been either been placed on leave to minimize disruption to our schools, or no longer work for the District.
- New Jersey law provides protection to tenured employees against immediate dismissal.
With respect to the investigation, we have done, and will continue to do, what we believe is right, legal and fair to all parties. While we understand the public’s desire for more information and action, we hope as well that you will understand we are legally constrained in the amount of information we can release and any immediate action we can take.
In addition, we want to be clear that the Board has the utmost faith in the District’s Administration, faculty and staff, and that on a daily basis they always have the best interests of our students at heart. While we acknowledge there is always room for improvement in everything we do, we believe this regrettable incident is an anomaly, and we wholeheartedly support the work our teachers and educational aides do every day.
We also believe it is essential that, as we move forward, we explore means to strengthen the community’s trust in the school district. The students, parents, teachers and staff who make Cherry Hill such a high quality school district deserve nothing less.