CHERRY HILL — A teacher accused of verbally abusing an autistic student has been placed on paid leave, district officials said.
Cherry Hill Superintendent Maureen Reusche said she took the action to minimize the “disruption to our schools” regarding the allegation against Kelly Altenburg, a special education teacher. It comes just days after township resident Stuart Chaifetz posted on YouTube clips of secretly recorded audio that caught one adult calling his autistic 10-year-old son “a bastard.”
Meanwhile, officials say one school aide resigned, another was put on leave and a substitute aide was not invited back amid the allegations.
Altenburg’s lawyer, Matthew Wieliczko, has denied she was in the classroom when the abusive remarks were made. Wieliczko also said an investigation by the district found that Altenburg — who has taught for 23 years — was not present.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Wieliczko said Altenburg is a dedicated veteran teacher who did not know about the comments until she was contacted by district officials about the covert recording and after Chaifetz posted his first video. Altenburg does not condone the comments, they said.
Chaifetz has said he sent his son into school wearing a recording device stashed in his pocket. The father said the tape revealed teachers at the school chiding and mocking Akian in a class only for children with autism who have trouble communicating.
Chaifetz took the step after getting reports earlier in the school year that his son was being violent. Hitting teachers and throwing chairs were out of character for the boy, who speaks but has serious difficulty expressing himself. Chaifetz said he talked to school officials and had his son meet with a behaviorist. There was no explanation for the way Akian was acting.
“I just knew I had to find out what was happening there,” he said. “My only option was to put a recorder there. I needed to hear what a normal day was like in there.”