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Suspended Long Beach district teacher denies harming students

An exterior view of the Long Beach School

An exterior view of the Long Beach School District building in Long Beach on Dec. 1, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A suspended Long Beach Middle School special education teacher accused of mistreating students testified at a marathon disciplinary hearing Wednesday that she acted in the best interests of her severely disabled pupils and did nothing to harm them.

Lisa Weitzman, whom the Long Beach school district is seeking to fire, faces eight district allegations involving five former students. She stands accused of threatening to use zip ties as a restraint, putting a student in a bathroom for a “timeout,” digging a high heel into a child’s foot, and cursing at a disabled student.

Weitzman has denied the allegations. Her attorney, Debra Wabnik, has said Weitzman is innocent and the target of retaliation by others in the district for advocating for her disabled students. The hearing — in the middle school’s administration building — started Wednesday morning and was expected to continue late into the night. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 16

In testimony, Weitzman described teaching autistic students as a “dream job,” adding that “this was the exact classroom I wanted,” after the district hired her in 2007.

Some of her students were non-verbal, prone to tantrums and also had bitten, hit or kicked other staff and students, according to prior testimony.

Responding to Wabnik’s questions, Weitzman denied digging a heel into a child’s foot.

“Absolutely not,” she testified as family and other supporters looked on. “The thought of it is actually revolting to me.”

Weitzman also testified that she did not body slam one of her students. Instead, she told Wabnik, the disabled student was about to pull the fire alarm — an act Weitzman said he had committed before — so she blocked him and held him in a “bearhug” until he calmed down. She said the student was not injured.

Regarding the accusation that she taped a child’s wrists, Weitzman testified she placed latex gloves on a student who had come to school with feces embedded in his nails and on his hands. She said she put blue painters tape around the edge of the gloves to keep them on. The tape never touched the student’s skin, Weitzman said.

She also said none of her students were ever left alone in a bathroom.

The district suspended Weitzman in 2014 after school officials said they became aware of the mistreatment allegations. She continues to collect her $96,000 annual salary.

The state Education Department appointed hearing officer Robert Grey to oversee the proceedings in the district’s administration. Weitzman requested that the hearing be open to the public.

There are several legal actions associated with the case, going back to last spring.

  • A federal lawsuit was filed in April, in the Eastern District in Central Islip, against the Long Beach system, several school officials and Weitzman, alleging that Weitzman physically and sexually abused a student with autism.
  • In June, Weitzman filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District, saying she was removed from her classroom and was the subject of a malicious investigation although she had only acted as an advocate for her students.
  • Weitzman and her teaching assistant, Lauren Schneider, filed a legal action in September in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, alleging they were defamed by statements made by school officials, including the superintendent, and others who sent an anonymous letter to parents and posted allegations on a Facebook page.
  • In December, four families of former students filed a lawsuit against the district in State Supreme Court in Nassau County, detailing allegations of abuse against Weitzman, Schneider and another aide. That suit also says Superintendent David Weiss and other school officials did nothing when the allegations were brought to their attention.

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