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NJ teacher calls bullying claims 'disingenuous'

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Fri April 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The teacher at the center of the scandal is currently on leave, her attorney says
  • School authorities say they are "continuing to investigate what occurred"
  • Stuart Chaifetz says school staff made inappropriate comments to his autistic son
  • Teacher Kelly Altenburg says she wasn't there when the comments were allegedly made

(CNN) -- The former teacher of a schoolboy diagnosed with autism, who is accused by the child's father of mistreating the student, has called the allegations "disingenuous," saying she wasn't there when the alleged classroom incident took place.

The father, Stuart Chaifetz, said he put a recording device on his 10-year-old son, Akian, and recorded school staff in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, making what he described as inappropriate comments during class.

Teacher Kelly Altenburg said through her attorney Friday that she "does not condone any such remarks."

"This language was not used at her direction, in her presence or with her knowledge," according to the statement.

Chaifetz launched a website and a YouTube video on Monday to publicize portions of more than six hours of recordings of what he says are teachers and aides talking about alcohol and sex in front of the class, punctuated by yelling at his son to "shut your mouth."

School authorities said in a statement Friday that they are "continuing to investigate what occurred in the classroom in question."

"Since the evidence presented is audio only, it is imperative that the improper conduct identified on the recording is correctly identified to the person(s) who committed the conduct," the statement said.

Altenburg said she had been attending an hour-long meeting when the recordings were made and was not in the room when Akian was allegedly told to "shut up," among other comments.

"There is no basis, either legal or truthful, for Mrs. Altenburg to be held accountable for the language or alleged words and actions of others, which may have taken place within her classroom, but which occurred outside of her presence and without her knowledge," her statement said.

Chaifetz responded by saying Altenburg is culpable because the incident occurred in her class.

"This was an all-day situation and it was not limited to the first hour," he added.

Chaifetz said he put the wire on Akian in an attempt to find out why staffers at his son's school had reported that the boy had been acting out and hitting his teachers. It was unlike his son to misbehave and hit his teachers, he said, though he had difficulty getting answers from Akian because he struggles with speaking.

"He wasn't able to come home and say, 'Dad, they called me a name today.'"

At one point in the recording, an adult female voice can be heard saying, "I had a bottle of wine with my girlfriend last night." The second female voice asks if she spent the morning "heaving."

"Oh my God, so bad," the first woman responds. "The wine won."

Chaifetz also said his son can be heard screaming and crying in the recording.

He said he reached out to school officials to report the alleged actions of the teachers shortly after he heard them.

"The school district was as horrified as I was," he said.

In an online statement, Cherry Hill Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Reusche said that the district investigated the recordings and "responded swiftly and appropriately."

"I want to assure our parents that the individuals who are heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district and have not since shortly after we received the copy of the recording," she said.

Chaifetz says he wants an apology from the teachers and claims that one of them apparently has been transferred to a local high school in the same district.

Altenburg's attorney, Matthew B Wieliczko, said that his client was initially transferred to another school in the district. She is currently on leave, he said.

School officials declined to comment on personnel issues.

CNN's Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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