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Colleagues testify at abuse hearing for Long Beach teacher

Kim and Todd Greengus are part of a

Kim and Todd Greengus are part of a federal lawsuit to vindicate the rights of students who were allegedly subjected to a litany of inhumane abuse at Long Beach Middle School. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A suspended Long Beach Middle School teacher, charged with abusing special education students, tried to get help from administrators and parents to address the needs of students with severe behavior problems, said colleagues who testified at a district disciplinary hearing Wednesday.

But it wasn’t clear from their testimony whether officials provided additional assistance between 2012 and 2014, when the allegations led to the suspension. A district representative questioned the relevancy and specifics of some colleagues’ accounts.

The Long Beach school district is looking to fire Lisa Weitzman over allegations that include threatening to use zip ties as restraints, using a bathroom for “time out” and digging one of her high heels into a child’s foot. Several lawsuits are pending over the case and Weitzman has denied the charges.

Jill Cherlin, a special-education teacher who was a building representative for the teacher’s union and a friend of Weitzman, told of Weitzman seeking her guidance on approaching administrators about a student and conflict with a teaching assistant.

The students were not identified to protect their privacy, but educators described disruptive incidents, such as one day when the teacher had to hold a child to keep her from injuring herself or instances in which one child from her class would go into the bathroom or lay on a mat and “scream-cry” when he was overstimulated.

Weitzman “was upset” and “frustrated” that “she wasn’t getting help that she needed” to cope with kids who were nonverbal and at times defiant, Cherlin said. “She had been dealing with a student that had been biting her and she actually showed me bite marks on her chest,” she said.

Cherlin recalled witnessing one time when a student was sent to a time-out room — not a bathroom — because “he was very hyper at the time.”

Much of the debate between the school district’s attorney, Christopher M. Powers, and Weitzman’s attorney, Debra L. Wabnik, was over what evidence was admissible.

In one exchange, Wabnik was asking social worker Glenn Gartung about disruptive incidents with one of Weitzman’s former students, but those took place after she was no longer teaching.

“She was out of the school,” Powers said. “What happened the following day … or the following year has absolutely no bearing.”

“It goes to the appropriateness of using timeout for reinforcement,” Wabnik countered.

The hearing officer, Robert Grey, allowed evidence on one incident where a student’s parents had to be called in, shortly after Weitzman was suspended, because he was “all over the classroom” and knocked over a playhouse, according to Gartung.

Theresa Taplin, a former middle school vice principal, also testified about complaints from teaching assistants and Weitzman over classroom management issues, but could not recall many of the details. She said she referred those complaints to the principal at the time.

Several legal actions that are separate from the disciplinary hearing are pending in the case. One is a $10 million federal lawsuit filed in April by Long Beach parents of a former Weitzman student that alleges physical and sexual abuse of the boy, who has autism. The suit names Weitzman, Superintendent David Weiss and several other district officials, and the Long Beach school system.

An attorney for parents Todd and Kim Greengus and families of other students said they were alerted to the possible abuse by an anonymous letter that circulated in the community in October 2015.

The lawsuit states that school officials used forcible restraints and zip ties on students, locked students in bathrooms, forced medication on them and committed sexual and physical assault.

Weitzman and former teaching assistant Lauren Schneider filed legal actions Sept. 30 in State Supreme Court in Nassau County against the district and school officials, as well as others who sent an anonymous letter to parents and posted allegations on a Facebook page. In the court papers, Weitzman and Schneider said they were defamed by statements made by school officials.

The hearing is scheduled to continue on Dec. 21 and Jan. 23.

With Joie Tyrrell

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