Why Are Parents Putting Wires On Special Ed Students?

Stuart Chaifetz had his 10-year-old autistic son, Akian, wear a recording device after school officials at his school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, said that the child had started to hit staff. According to NJ.com, Chaifetz listened to the recording and heard a number of things that he “believed … took place because the class only contains children with autism who have trouble communicating.” Chaifetz made a YouTube video about what he heard on the recording:

In the tape, one staff member can be heard bragging to another about how much she drank the night before. …

Later in the recording, a teacher speaks to students in a harsh tone, then tells a student — allegedly Akian — “shut your mouth.”

More clips are presented later in the recording, allegedly showing teachers dismissing and mocking Akian as he cried, but it was unclear from the audio what was being said.

Chaifetz has called for the teachers to issue a public apology to Akian and to resign from their jobs but said he is not planning to sue the school district. He is calling for a legislative bill under which teachers who bully students must be fired.

Chaifetz said that he has turned the tape over to the school district and the  Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the school personnel heard on the recording are no longer employed.

More Reports of Parents Having Special Ed Students Wear Recording Devices

An animal rights activist and former school board candidate, Chaifetz went on a week-long hunger stirke five years ago to call attention to a lack of state funding for developmentally disabled children and children at risk. He is not the first parent who has had a child with disabilities secretly wear a recording device. Last year, an an Ohio mother had her teenage daughter with special needs wear a wire to record abusive comments made by classroom staff in a resource room; an aide was heard telling the student that she was “dumb,” a “liar,” “lazy” and overweight. The family was awarded $300,000 for the bullying by school staff.

In addition, in 2008, a mother of an autistic boy, Stefan Ferrari, sewed a microphone into his shirt after suspecting that he was abused in his Atlanta classroom. Stefan’s parents sued the school district and his former teacher, Sherri Jones, was charged with making abusive comments; Stefan had also been physically abused and had bruises on his legs. While the judge ruled that he had been hit by an adult at the school, who was responsible for the abuse has yet to be determined and Jones herself has denied physically abusing Stefan. The school district was ordered to pay Stefan’s family about $236,000, almost $800,000 for the district’s and own lawyers and ”a certain amount of money,” into a trust fund for Stefan’s education.

As Nirvi Shah writes on Education Week’s On Special Education blog, “is this what it has come to?” Is this what it’s like to work in and be a student in a special education classroom today, an atmosphere of potential verbal and physical abuse and deep distrust between school personnel and parents?

Creating a Contention-Free Special Education Parent-School Relationship

My autistic son Charlie will be 15 years old next month and has only been in special education classrooms and schools for his entire education. Charlie is now a happy school boy at the county autism center he attends. There are some 200 students at his school in central New Jersey and even more staff and most know Charlie by name. Charlie has been at this school since November of 2009 after a very contentious experience with a central New Jersey school district (that we no longer live in, though Charlie still attends the same autism center). We are no longer arguing with the school district about teaching methodologies, staffing levels, hours of therapies, incident reports and so forth. We now spend meetings about Charlie’s Individualized Education Plan discussing his education, instead of arguing about special ed law, placements and behavior plans.

Some might say we’re just tired of fighting and gave in and agreed to have Charlie attend a separate, out-of-district autism center rather than attempting to have him in a classroom in a local public school with the supports he needed. That is one way to see the matter.

But another is that, we chose to acknowledge the limitations of what a public school district itself could do and chose a setting that seemed to offer Charlie as accommodating, and conflict-free, a climate as possible. Looking back, there must have been quite a bit of stress on Charlie’s special ed teachers and therapists who worked in public schools, having to teach their students and also deal with the other faculty, parents and administrators who may have felt the special ed students were just occupying space and taking away resources. Charlie is extremely sensitive to other people’s emotions; being minimally verbal, he is incredibly attuned to non-verbal communication. I am sure he was well aware of contention between school staff and parents and was often confused and frustrated that we adults couldn’t get along, when he was trying so hard to learn.

Charlie has always wanted to go to school to learn and to do his best to have good days, not to find himself the cause of angry disputes. Parents sending in special ed students wearing secret recording devices is a sure sign of one thing: Something is very wrong with a special ed program and with communication and interactions between parents and school staff. So much contentiousness is too often the case but it must be addressed. How can we make sure that everyone is truly on the same page about providing the best education possible for our students?


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Steve D.
Past Member 1 years ago

Thanks for your beyond belief blogs stuff.

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

if you don't do well with kids under pressure or special circumstances, do NOT be a teacher

federico bortoletto
federico b5 years ago

Grazie per l'articolo.

Krystal M.
Krystal M5 years ago

I think it's a great idea. One of my school bullies was a teacher. They have cameras on some school buses and I've often wondered why they didn't have them in classrooms.

Robert Tedders
Robert T5 years ago


Seth E.
Seth E5 years ago

I can't believe anyone would defend the horrible people at these schools that did this by rationalizing away that there shouldn't be an expectation that they are trained to deal with autistic kids. NOTHING justifies bullying or demeaning kids or acting so unprofessionally, regardless of any other factors.

Also, recording in private requires consent or some other warranted justification, but recording in public does not, so in a public school, there would have been nothing illegal about what these parents did, and the contents would be allowable as evidence of the wrongdoing that they discovered.

Susan V.
Susan V5 years ago

Petition on this issue:

I do address the privacy issue. I think in this case, the parent felt he had exhausted other options trying to figure out why his child was acting out at school, when he saw no evidence of such behavior in other settings.

Also, as I understand it, this was a class of all autistic children. I would assume those in charge were or should have been trained to deal with and understand special needs.

Diana S.
Diana S5 years ago

Recording ANYone without their full KNOWLEDGE and CONSENT is illegal under the current laws of the US. Any judge who knows anything about the law will have this, and other, illegally obtained recordings, banned from evidence.

Nothing I read says anything about whether this was a school especially for special needs students, or whether it was a class of special needs students in a "regular" public school.

The post-secondary schooling necessary to earn not only a bachelor's degree but a teaching credential as well is often five to six years, and expensive as hell. Expecting ALL teachers to spend even more money and more time taking the additional courses necessary to deal with students outside the "normal" classification is neither fair to the teachers nor fair to the system itself.

It seems rational to expect special needs students to attend schools designed to accommodate their needs, and to be taught by teachers who WANT to be there and who have TRAINED to be there. And NO, this is no more segregation than are special schools for the performing arts (remember the film and tv shows titled "FAME"?), or special vocational high schools, or charter schools that only accept high-IQ students (Lowell High in San Francisco).

I am surprised that so many parents of special needs students don't seem to "get" that their kids are actually being short-changed by being sent to schools that are not designed to satisfy those needs.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

They should all be wired up and these places should have cameras too. In fact All schools should have CCTV. Make education transparent, not as some secret society. If anywhere needs surveillance it is where ever children and the disadvantaged are.

Janice M.
Janice Ma5 years ago

Even if these children are difficult to deal with, no teacher has any business saying things to a child such as, 'shut up' or 'you're fat' or any other emotionally hurtful statement. There are ways of indicating your dislike of a students behavior without hurting their feelings.