Long Beach Middle School parents on Thursday filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the Long Beach school district, alleging physical and sexual abuse of a student with autism by a special education teacher.
Attorneys with the Garden City law firm Gerstman Schwartz Malito filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of U.S. District Court in Central Islip against the district and several district officials as well as middle school teacher Lisa Weitzman, who is facing a disciplinary and employment hearing by the district.
The federal lawsuit joins a state class-action lawsuit filed by four families alleging similar abuse and a conspiracy to cover up what they say occurred in the classroom. A Supreme Court justice in Nassau County is scheduled to hear the state claim filed against the district during an April 29 hearing.
The Nassau County district attorney’s office is also reviewing the abuse claims for “any criminality”, a spokesman said.
Todd and Kim Greengus, the parents who filed the federal lawsuit, said during a news conference Thursday that they started noticing changes in their 14-year-old son two years ago when he came home from school.
Their son was nonverbal, but used to act like “the little mayor, walking around town introducing himself,” Kim Greengus said.
“He loved to go to school, then suddenly he didn’t want to get off the bus,” she said. “He couldn’t tell us the everyday torture he was going through. I knew as a mother that something was wrong.”
Their attorney, Brad Gerstman, said there were six children in the boy’s class who may have been abused, but he expects additional victims may come forward. The families were alerted to the possible abuse by an anonymous letter that circulated in the community in October 2015. The lawsuit also alleges district superintendent David Weiss and teachers aides did not report the abuse.
District officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing student privacy, but said Weitzman’s disciplinary hearing is continuing through the end of the month.
School officials have said they suspended Weitzman in 2014 when they became aware of abuse allegations. She continues to collect her $96,000 salary on paid leave.
District officials previously issued a statement saying they have “complied, and will continue to comply, with all federal and state legal requirements regarding complaints to the District about the possible abuse or mistreatment of students.”
The federal lawsuit states school officials used forcible restraints and zip ties on students,, locked students in bathrooms, forced medication, used drugs, and committed sexual and physical assault.
“Within the walls of Long Beach Middle School, in the heart of a small, tight-knit community, teachers were routinely subjecting vulnerable special-education students in their care to a litany of abuses,” Gerstman said in a statement about the lawsuit.
Weitzman has filed a separate claim against the district accusing officials of “falsifying charges against her in retaliation for her constant advocacy for her students.”