A New Jersey dad who suspected something was "horrifyingly wrong" at school when his autistic son began acting violently had the boy wear a digital recorder and discovered teachers verbally abusing him.
Stuart Chaifetz, 44, described his 10-year-old son Akian as a "sweet and gentle child" with a penchant for acrobatics and a deep bond with his three dogs.
So Chaifetz said it was totally out of character when he began receiving reports from Horace Mann Elementary School that Akian was hitting his teacher and a teacher's aide.
"The thing that said to me that something horrifyingly wrong was going on was that he was hitting the teacher and the aide. I have never seen him hit anyone. He's just not a violent kid," Chaifetz told ABCNews.com.
Akian spent six months working with behaviorists and other specialists who were trying to find the problem. Finally, Akian was put in a controlled scenario that pushed him to his limits and, still, he did not lash out violently.
"I realized that there was something terrible going on in that classroom and I needed to know what it was," Chaifetz said.
Chaifetz put a digital recorder in Akian's pocket on a February school day. Akian is in a self-contained autism class with five other students and the device recorded six-and-a-half hours of audio.
When Akian came home from school and Chaifetz listened to the audio, he was shocked by what he heard. "When I listened to what they had done to him, I just shattered inside," Chaifetz said.
Chaifetz heard the teacher and aide calling Akian names, making fun of him, yelling at him and having inappropriate conversations in front of the children.
"The culture was so dysfunctional that an adult felt she could make fun of a child with a disability and nothing would happen to her," Chaifetz said. "If it wasn't captured on the audio, she probably would still be making fun of my son. That's a bully."
Akian, according to Chaifetz, has a tendency to speak softly to himself. When he was doing so in class, a teacher or aide can be heard saying angrily, "Who are you talking to? Nobody. Knock it off." Akian is also told several times to shut his mouth.
After being scolded several times, Akian begins to cry and the administrator said, "Go ahead and scream because guess what? You're going to get nothing until your mouth is shut."
At another point, the teacher or aide calls Akian a "bastard" when he will not stop crying.
"He's the best human being I've ever met and these people were taking it away because they were crushing his spirit," Chaifetz said. "If I had not spoken out and released that video, it would have been like it never happened, except to Akian because it happened to him and he knows it."
Chaifetz took the audio to school officials.
"They were shocked and horrified as I was and I appreciate the fact that they took immediate action and fired one of the aides in the class," he said. "The problem is that they didn't fire the teacher because of tenure and she was moved to another school."
Chaifetz was outraged that the teacher was not fired.
"I don't want her teaching anyone ever again," he said. "She lost her privilege to do that."
The Cherry Hill school district issued a statement on its website regarding the incident, which included the following: