The parent of a child with Down syndrome in the Long Beach school district has filed a lawsuit alleging her daughter was the victim of “repeated physical, sexual and mental abuse” under the supervision of educators — including one defending herself against other mistreatment accusations in disciplinary hearings and other lawsuits.
The complaint, filed by Shirlyn Summers on Feb. 24 in state Supreme Court in Nassau County, alleges that several educators, including suspended special education teacher Lisa 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.
The suit claims that Weitzman, her teaching assistant Lauren Schneider, and another teaching assistant “routinely used the classroom and/or public bathroom to confine, detain, restrain and falsely imprison students who they perceived to be misbehaving.” Summers’ daughter, described in court papers as a non-communicative, mentally disabled 16-year-old, “remains fearful of public bathrooms” as a result, the suit said. Newsday is not naming the other assistant because her lawyer could not be reached.
The abuse is alleged to have occurred between 2011 and 2014.
Other school officials are named as defendants, including Superintendent David Weiss and former Long Beach Middle School principal Michele Natali, who is listed on the district’s website as executive director of the school’s Office of Human Resources.
Deirdre Gilligan, a district spokeswoman, told Newsday that “the district is aware of the latest lawsuit but does not comment on active litigation.”
The district has been seeking to fire Weitzman, who faces eight district allegations involving five ex-students. Weitzman, who continues to draw her $96,000 annual salary, has denied those accusations, which included that she cursed at a disabled student, dug a high heel into a child’s foot, threatened to use a zip tie as a restraint, and sent a student to the bathroom for “timeout.”
Debra Wabnik, an attorney for Weitzman and Schneider, said in a statement that the complaint is “replete with falsehoods and inaccuracies.”
“The claims against them have absolutely no basis,” she said. “They never harmed this student or any other student.”
The Garden City attorney, who also is representing Weitzman in the district’s hearing, added that “the only physical injuries were the ones inflicted by this student on the staff. The student had violent episodes that required physical restraint” by Weitzman, Schneider and other district employees. Wabnik noted “the student was never injured in the course of restraint.”
She also disputed the length of time Summers claimed that her daughter was in Weitzman’s classroom, and said the student was not in Weitzman’s class when Summers “claims she witnessed the student being restrained on the floor.”
Wabnik wrote that Weitzman and Schneider “cared for this student and did everything they could to allow her to obtain an education despite her behaviors.”
In Weitzman’s ongoing disciplinary case, the state education department appointed a hearing officer to oversee the proceedings, which has been open to the public at Weitzman’s request.
The suit also alleges that complaints were made from 11 teacher’s aides or assistants about Weitzman’s behavior, but that district officials “were deliberately indifferent toward the abuse, and did not undertake any investigation or disciplinary action” against the teachers.
In September, Weitzman and Schneider filed a suit in state Supreme Court in Nassau County, claiming they were defamed by school officials. In June, Weitzman filed a federal lawsuit against the district, claiming her removal was the result of a malicious investigation.
Additional legal actions involving Weitzman, the district and other families still are pending, court records show. Last April, a lawsuit was filed against Weitzman, the Long Beach district and several school officials, alleging that Weitzman physically and sexually abused an autistic student.
In December, four families of former students sued the district, detailing abuse allegations against Weitzman, Schneider and another aide. The suit also alleges that school officials, including Weiss, failed to act after the allegations were made.