Four families have reached a $3.1 million settlement with the Long Beach school district over abuse allegations of their disabled children by a former middle school teacher and two classroom aides, according to court records.
The civil lawsuit, which was filed in 2017, detailed allegations of abuse by teacher Lisa Weitzman and teaching assistants Lauren Schneider and Jeanmarie Lilley. The suit named several school officials, including former Superintendent David Weiss. The families alleged the students were abused while in Weitzman's class and that district officials failed to protect them.
Weitzman was fired in 2019, after a public disciplinary hearing spanning more than a year.
The suit was initially filed in Nassau County State Supreme Court, then moved to the U.S. District Court Eastern Division in Central Islip.
According to court documents, Weitzman and the aides "engaged in a course of physical, verbal and psychological abuse directed toward the students in their care."
The district was given the OK to fire Weitzman after Robert Grey, a hearing officer appointed by the state Education Department, ruled in favor of the district in 2019. Grey found that Weitzman had committed three of eight charges filed against her: placing a student in a bathroom for an unauthorized and inappropriate "time out," 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.
Grey presided over the hearing held on intermittent dates from March 2016 through May 2017.
Weitzman faced other charges, including that she cursed at a student, dug a high heel into a child’s foot, threatened to use a zip tie as a restraint and taped latex gloves to a child’s hands.
Weitzman has denied all wrongdoing, and filed an appeal asking the court to reinstate her to her position with back pay. In 2017, Weitzman and Schneider filed a suit in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, contending that they were defamed by school officials. Weitzman's attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Long Beach school officials declined to comment. In 2017, Weiss told Newsday that the district launched an investigation when allegations of misconduct were brought to the district’s attention.
Gerard Misk, a Queens-based attorney for the families whose children are now adults, said the district settled with them in August and that they recently received a divided payout. He said the funds were set up in a special trust to ensure the former students — who are nonverbal — can pay for the extended care they need.
Weitzman had worked for the district since 2007, and faced charges in a disciplinary hearing concerning five former students, starting in the 2012-13 school term. Weitzman was placed on paid suspension in November 2014. The district paid her nearly $650,000 in salary and benefits from 2014 through the time she was fired in 2019, according to information Newsday obtained through a public records request.
In April 2019, the Long Beach school board voted 4-0 to fire Weitzman.
"This went on for years, and it is not possible in my mind for something to go on for so long and no one knew about it," Misk said, adding that complaints to administrators "fell on deaf ears. It was like they were protecting them for reasons that are beyond me."
The families he represents declined to comment Tuesday.
Four of the five former students referenced in the disciplinary hearing are the same students whose families settled, Misk said. He said Weitzman was never criminally charged.
Other parents also have taken legal action against the district.
In April 2016, a federal lawsuit was filed against Weitzman, the district and several school officials, alleging Weitzman physically and sexually abused an autistic student. Court records show the case remains active.
A year later, the parent of a child with Down syndrome in the district filed a lawsuit alleging her daughter was the victim of "repeated physical, sexual and mental abuse" while under the supervision of Weitzman and other educators in the system.
The complaint alleged that several educators, including 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.