MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — The parents of five middle school-aged children with autism or Down syndrome are pursuing a lawsuit against a suburban New York school district, claiming it did nothing after becoming aware that their children were restrained and otherwise abused by a special education teacher.
Attorney Gerard Misk, who represents the parents, said Wednesday he has filed legal papers seeking to sue the Long Beach School District on Long Island for $25 million in damages.
Misk says in legal papers that a male student was encouraged to masturbate in front of other classmates; that children were restrained with zip ties and duct tape and physically and verbally abused; and that the teacher and two aides improperly used a bathroom as a timeout room.
The teacher, identified in court papers as Lisa Weitzman, currently faces a hearing that could lead to her dismissal, Misk said. She was suspended by the district in November 2014, but the hearing into her alleged actions only commenced last month, he said.
She is not targeted in the lawsuit and vehemently denies the allegations, said her attorney, Debra Wabnik.
Weitzman has filed her own claim against the district for "falsifying charges against her in retaliation for her constant advocacy for her students," Wabnik said in a statement.
"Ms. Weitzman was a dedicated teacher who was loved by her students and their parents," she said. "She fought to get them services and rights which the district failed to provide."
A statement from the school district, located east of New York City, said it has not been served with any legal papers from Misk, but acknowledged a series of hearings involving Weitzman are ongoing.
"Please know that Long Beach has complied, and will continue to comply, with all federal and state legal requirements regarding complaints to the district about possible abuse or mistreatment of our students," said spokeswoman Marissa Gallo.
"Laws protecting the privacy of students prohibit us from saying anything more."
Misk said some of the alleged abuse only came to light in recent weeks as a result of the hearing. He explained he needs a judge's approval to file the suit because the alleged abuse occurred between 2011 and 2014; ordinarily a notice of claim for a potential lawsuit must be filed within 90 days, the lawyer said.
"All the children are noncommunicative; they're not able to come home and tell their parents about what happened," Misk said.
"They're horrified," Misk said of the children's parents. "At first some of them refused to believe it. They were all defending this teacher until the public hearings came around and they started to hear more and more about what actually went on."
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