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School district’s lawyer: Teacher is unfit for classroom

Suspended Long Beach Middle School teacher Lisa Weitzman

Suspended Long Beach Middle School teacher Lisa Weitzman arrives for closing arguments in her disciplinary hearing on Monday, May 22, 2017, at the administration building in Lido Beach. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suspended Long Beach Middle School teacher Lisa Weitzman betrayed the trust of her students and their parents and is unfit to return to the classroom, the school system’s attorney said Monday in closing arguments of the long-running disciplinary hearing.

The district is seeking to fire Weitzman, who faces eight allegations involving five former special-education students, starting in the 2012-13 school year. She was suspended in 2014.

“What she did over this two-and-a-half-year period was horrible,” Christopher Powers, who represents Long Beach schools, said in the proceeding. “No student — especially special-education students — should be subject to that.”

Weitzman, who has denied all the charges, requested that her hearing be open.

Her attorney, Debra Wabnik, said in her closing statement that Weitzman was a devoted teacher to her severely disabled students. She did not receive support from district officials, who retaliated against her for standing up for her pupils, her attorney said.

“She loved these kids and wanted a better life for them,” Wabnik said.

Hearing officer Robert Grey, appointed by the state Education Department, has overseen the case, which began in March 2016. The hearings have been held on widely separated dates over the months.

Grey will review the transcript and exhibits and issue a written decision to the Education Department, which will forward it to the Long Beach school district, officials said. The process usually takes 30 to 60 days, though Grey could request an extension.

Among the allegations are that Weitzman sent a student to the classroom bathroom for “timeout,” cursed at a student, dug a high heel into a child’s foot and threatened to use a zip tie as a restraint. She also is accused of dispensing medicine to a student and taping latex gloves to a child’s hands.

School officials have said they suspended Weitzman when they became aware of allegations of abuse. She had been a teacher in the district since 2007.

She continues to draw her $96,000 annual salary.

On Monday, Wabnik disputed the charges in closing arguments saying that Weitzman had acted in the students’ best interests. For example, the attorney said, she covered a student’s hands with latex gloves to protect the student, whose hands were covered in feces. Weitzman blocked a student from pulling a false fire alarm and held him to prevent him from getting to the alarm, Wabnik said.

The district did not produce any physical or forensic evidence, Wabnik said.

Powers countered that several educators and professionals testified that they had witnessed Weitzman’s abusive behavior toward her students, who were nonverbal, and that she had a full support team available at the middle school.

There was no conspiracy to get her out of the classroom, he said. Rather, she acted under her own authority, playing “free and loose” with special education laws and regulations, he said.

He urged Grey to think of the children and their families.

There are several separate legal actions, in federal and state courts, related to Weitzman, other Long Beach educators and the district.

Before the start of Monday’s hearing, Gerard Misk, an attorney representing families in one of the lawsuits, held a news conference outside the district administration building in Lido Beach where the proceedings were held.

Misk alleged he had a transcript showing that a high-ranking Long Beach school official had testified under oath that school officials met with victims’ parents and assured the parents they would provide details of what happened to their children.

But he said no one from the district met with parents in the suit. The parents learned their children were affected in other ways, including testimony from a prior hearing date, when the district’s director of pupil personnel services testified.

“The school district conducted an investigation and filed charges against the teacher without ever notifying parents,” Misk said.

David Weiss, superintendent of Long Beach schools, said Monday that the district launched an immediate and extensive investigation when allegations of misconduct were brought to the district’s attention.

“The district does not tolerate misconduct by any staff members, and has utilized the legal mechanisms we have at our disposal to ensure that we offer the best education possible to all our students, including our special needs students,” Weiss said.

Misk’s clients filed suit in December in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, detailing allegations of abuse against Weitzman, her former teaching assistant, Lauren Schneider, and another aide. The suit, which seeks $25 million in damages, also says that school officials, including Weitzman, failed to act after the allegations were made.

Earlier this year, the parent of a child with Down syndrome in the district filed a lawsuit alleging her daughter was the victim of “repeated physical, sexual and mental abuse” while under the supervision of Weitzman and other educators in the system. The complaint, filed by Shirlyn Summers on Feb. 24 in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, alleges that several educators, including Weitzman, would “demonstrate sexually explicit acts” using students as props in front of other students, including her daughter; uttered profanities; and consumed marijuana in the presence of children.

That lawsuit also named district officials and Schneider.

In other legal cases that are pending:

  • In April 2016, a federal lawsuit was filed against Weitzman, the Long Beach district and several school officials, alleging that Weitzman physically and sexually abused an autistic student.
  • In June, Weitzman filed a federal lawsuit against the district, claiming her removal was the result of a malicious investigation.
  • In September, Weitzman and Schneider filed a suit in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, claiming they were defamed by school officials.

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