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Suspended Long Beach teacher faces another abuse hearing

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.

Testimony continued Wednesday in a disciplinary hearing for a suspended Long Beach Middle School teacher who the district alleges abused her special education students — charges she has denied.

The district seeks to fire Lisa Weitzman on eight charges involving five former students, including that she threatened to use zip ties as a restraint, used a bathroom for “time out” and dug a high heel into a child’s foot. She has denied the allegations.

Under questioning Wednesday by Weitzman’s attorney, Debra Wabnick, former Long Beach Middle School Principal Michelle Natali testified that another educator had told her in fall 2014 that Weitzman had been using the bathroom as a timeout room, which “is not allowed in a public school.”

Weitzman taught a class of severely disabled students who sometimes could be violent, according to prior testimony. A meeting with Weitzman followed the allegation and she was placed on administrative leave, Natali said. School officials also met with a parent of the student.

“We want to let her know that this had happened and it wouldn’t be happening again,” Natali said.

Weitzman was suspended in 2014 when school officials said they became aware of abuse allegations. She continues to collect her $96,000 salary.

Hearing officer Robert Grey was appointed by the state Education Department to oversee the proceedings. Weitzman requested that her hearing, which began in March, be open to the public.

“This was a teacher who constantly rallied for her disabled students,” Wabnick said. Weitzman was retaliated against by other staff in “an effort to get rid of someone who was fighting for these kids,” the Garden City attorney said.

Much of the morning testimony Wednesday focused on payroll records with an attorney for the district, Christopher Powers, disputing the need for some payroll records. He said the hearing should focus on the eight charges against Weitzman.

The hearing concluded Wednesday night with former teaching assistant Ariel Seligman testifying that a student having a tantrum was placed in the bathroom as a “safe spot” but the door was always kept open.

Several ongoing legal actions are connected with the case. Gerard Misk, a Queens Village attorney, filed suit at the end of December in state Supreme Court in Nassau County detailing allegations of abuse of four former students by Weitzman and two of her classroom aides.

The suit filed by Misk against the district names Superintendent David Weiss and other school officials who legal papers state did nothing to stop Weitzman when abuse allegations were brought to supervisors’ attention.

The suit alleges Weitzman and the two teaching aides “repeatedly engaged in a course of physical, verbal and psychological abuse” of disabled students from September 2009 to fall 2014. Some of the suit allegations — such as using a bathroom for a timeout and digging a heel into a child’s shoe — are similar to the disciplinary hearing charges.

The court papers do not specify legal damages but Misk said Wednesday that the families are seeking $25 million.

“What the district allowed to happen to these children is shocking. And now they deny it happened while simultaneously seeking to discharge Weitzman based upon the exact same allegations. They either knew what was going on or they were being purposely ignorant of what was going on. Either way, they are all responsible,” Misk said.

A $10 million federal lawsuit has been filed against Long Beach, alleging Weitzman physically and sexually abused a student with autism.

Attorneys with the Garden City law firm Gerstman Schwartz Malito filed the lawsuit against the district, several school officials and Weitzman in the Eastern District of U.S. District Court in Central Islip in April.

In June, Weitzman filed a federal suit 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.

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