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Former assistant testifies in Long Beach teacher’s abuse hearing

An exterior view of the Long Beach school

An exterior view of the Long Beach school district's administration building in Long Beach on Dec. 1, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A former Long Beach Middle School teaching assistant testified Friday in a disciplinary hearing for suspended special education teacher Lisa Weitzman that latex gloves were taped to one student’s hands and another was placed in a bathroom on several occasions — steps she said were taken to protect the disabled children.

Lauren Schneider, who worked in the classroom with Weitzman before leaving the system in 2014, described situations in which some of the severely disabled students turned violent and punched, kicked and bit other students, as well as staff. She said she never saw Weitzman be rough with a student.

Weitzman, whom the district is seeking to fire, is accused of mistreating her students. The district has enumerated eight charges involving five former students, including that Weitzman threatened to use zip ties as a restraint, used a bathroom for “timeout” and dug a high heel into a child’s foot.

She has denied the allegations. Her attorney, Debra Wabnick, has said her client is innocent and is being retaliated against by others in the district for advocating for her disabled students.

Schneider on Friday testified about one instance in which Weitzman taped latex gloves to a student’s hands after the student arrived at the school with feces on his hands and under his fingernails and the school-supplied soap was not adequate. Schneider said it was a “health” issue.

She also testified that Weitzman had placed a different student in the bathroom on more than one occasion.

Under questioning from Christopher Powers, the district’s attorney, Schneider said that in one of those instances, she had used her foot to help hold the bathroom door closed for “not longer than 10 seconds” in trying to protect that student from another child who had become violent.

Schneider also said Friday that the district did not provide enough support for educating and caring for the special-needs students.

“It was us and us alone,” she said.

Powers said there were five full-time staffers in the classroom for six children one year, as well as several therapists and other educators who worked with the students inside and outside the classroom. Staffing was similar for other years, with multiple people available for a limited number of students, he said.

“We are into double-digits into the number of staff who provided services to these kids,” Powers said.

Weitzman was suspended in 2014 when school officials said they became aware of abuse allegations. She continues to collect her $96,000 annual salary.

Hearing officer Robert Grey was appointed by the state Education Department to oversee the proceedings. Weitzman requested that her hearing, which began in March, be open to the public.

Schneider left the district in December 2014. She said she was asked to return but declined.

There are several legal actions associated with the case, going back to last spring.

  • A federal lawsuit was filed in April, in the Eastern District in Central Islip, against the Long Beach system, several school officials and Weitzman, alleging that Weitzman physically and sexually abused a student with autism.
  • In June, Weitzman filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District, saying she was removed from her classroom and was the subject of a malicious investigation although she had only acted as an advocate for her students.
  • Weitzman and Schneider filed a legal action in September in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, alleging they were defamed by statements made by school officials, including the superintendent, and others who sent an anonymous letter to parents and posted allegations on a Facebook page.
  • In December, four families of former students filed a lawsuit against the district in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, detailing allegations of abuse against Weitzman, Schneider and another aide. That suit also says Superintendent David Weiss and other school officials did nothing when the allegations were brought to their attention.

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