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Long Beach district fires suspended teacher

The school board voted 4-0 to end its employment of Lisa Weitzman, found by a state hearing officer to have harmed her special education students.

Long Beach school board President Dennis Ryan, right,

Long Beach school board President Dennis Ryan, right, reads a resolution on Tuesday authorizing the firing of special education teacher Lisa Weitzman. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Beach Board of Education voted Tuesday to fire Lisa Weitzman, the suspended middle school teacher found by a state hearing officer to have harmed the severely disabled special education students in her class.

The school board, at a special meeting, accepted the decision of Hearing Officer Robert A. Grey, who recommended Weitzman be fired. The state Education Department made Grey's 128-opinion public on Monday.

Board President Dennis Ryan, Vice President Maureen Vrona, and trustees Perry Bodnar Jr. and Tina Posterli voted 4-0 on the resolution, read aloud by Ryan, to end the teacher's employment effective at the close of business Wednesday. Board member Sam Pinto was absent.

Weitzman, 37, a teacher in the district since 2007, was not present at the meeting in the district's administration building.

School officials declined to comment after the vote, with Ryan referring to a statement on the district website that reads in part, "The safety and well-being of our students is the district’s top priority, and we are grateful that this matter has been concluded for the benefit of our children."

Grey presided over Weitzman's lengthy disciplinary hearing, held on various dates from March 4, 2016, through May 22, 2017, and open to the public at the teacher's request. She faced eight allegations involving five former special-education students, starting in the 2012-13 school year.

Weitzman, testifying in February and April 2017 during her hearing, strongly denied she harmed her students and said she always was acting in their best interests.

Grey, in his opinion dated March 31, found that she had committed three of the charges, including placing a student in a bathroom for an unauthorized and inappropriate timeout, physically grabbing a student and pushing him up against a wall by his shoulders to restrain him, and dispensing Motrin pain reliever to a student on one or more occasions.

“The district proved that respondent's culpable conduct constituted misconduct, neglect of duty, and conduct unbecoming a teacher," Grey wrote. She “knowingly and materially misled colleagues, supervisors, subordinates and parents.” He also said that Weitzman's "claims of conspiracy and retaliation against her are not supported."

In recommending Weitzman be fired, he wrote that a less-severe penalty would be “ineffective, unwarranted and would unacceptably endanger the health, safety and welfare of the district’s students."

On Monday after Grey's opinion was made public, Weitzman's attorney Debra Wabnik said, "Although five of the charges were correctly dismissed, the rest of the decision contains many contradictions and inaccuracies. Ms. Weitzman is currently evaluating her legal options."

Weitzman was placed on paid suspension in November 2014. The district has paid her more than $540,000 in salary and benefits since, according to information Newsday obtained through a public records request.

School officials have said they suspended Weitzman when they became aware of allegations of abuse in 2014.

Several lawsuits have been filed in federal and state courts related to Weitzman, other Long Beach educators and the district. The parties in those legal actions — some brought by parents of former students in Weitzman's class — could not move forward until there was an Education Department resolution of the case, according to court papers.

Gerard Misk, an attorney for four families who brought an action in federal court in Central Islip, said Monday that his clients "look forward to re-starting" the federal court case.

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