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Long Beach Middle School teacher fired for harming students files appeal

Lisa Weitzman, of Plainview, was fired this month by the district's school board after a state hearing officer found she committed three of eight charges filed against her concerning disabled students.

Long Beach teacher Lisa Weitzman arrives for closing

Long Beach teacher Lisa Weitzman arrives for closing arguments in her disciplinary hearing May 22, 2017, in Long Beach. She was placed on paid suspension in November 2014. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Beach Middle School teacher who was fired earlier this month after a state hearing officer found she harmed her severely disabled students has filed legal papers seeking an order to reverse the decision and get her job back.

Lisa Weitzman, 37, of Plainview, filed court papers April 10 in state Supreme Court in Nassau County. The documents ask the court for an order to reverse and overturn the opinion by state hearing officer Robert Grey "based on his undeniable bias" against Weitzman and in favor of the district.

Grey found Weitzman had committed three of eight charges filed against her regarding the disabled students, including placing a student in a bathroom for an unauthorized and inappropriate "timeout," physically grabbing a student and pushing him against a wall by his shoulders to restrain him, and dispensing Motrin pain reliever to a student on one or more occasions.

Weitzman, who has denied all charges of harming her students, is asking the court to reinstate her to her teaching position with back pay.

Her attorney, Debra Wabnik, said in a statement Friday that "the decision to terminate Ms. Weitzman is shocking and completely contrary to the evidence presented. Despite sitting through almost 30 days of testimony, the Hearing Officer clearly had no understanding of the behaviors and needs of Ms. Weitzman’s severely disabled students, or the lengths the District was willing to go to stop her from fighting for their rights. We are confident that the appeal will be granted and Ms. Weitzman will be put back in the classroom where she belongs."

Long Beach school officials declined to comment, as did the state Education Department.

On April 2, the Long Beach school board voted 4-0 to fire Weitzman, who had been a teacher in the district since 2007. Weitzman was placed on paid suspension in November 2014. The district has paid her more than $649,680 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. Gerard Misk, an attorney who represents four of the families who have brought suit, said Friday he does not think the former teacher's latest filing would have an effect on those cases.

Grey presided over Weitzman's lengthy disciplinary hearing, which was 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, wrote that "the district proved that respondent's culpable conduct constituted misconduct, neglect of duty, and conduct unbecoming a teacher." She “knowingly and materially misled colleagues, supervisors, subordinates and parents,” he wrote. 

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

In court papers, Weitzman says that Grey's opinion was "completely contrary to the evidence adduced at the hearing, improperly assumes facts not in evidence and reeks of bias."

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