Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Hero in New Jersey

I've seen a lot of stories that have almost made me come out of blogging hibernation.  But this one just speaks to me, on many different levels, that I had to put my 2 cents in.

Stu Chaifetz is a divorced 44 year old dad that lives in New Jersey.  His 10 year old son, Aiken, lives mostly with him.  I don't know what he does, but he strikes me as a "regular guy" that finally got fed up with being run around by the system, and found an effective way to get to the bottom of what was bothering his son, and correct it.  I highly encourage you to watch this video if you haven't seen it yet.

A couple of things strike me about his story, and how he responded to the school system and the teachers.  First of all, he saw behavior that was atypical for his kid.  Aiken never lashed out, but all of a sudden was reported to be hitting teachers.  I think most school systems are similar across the country.  No matter how "good" the school system is, the individual child is assumed to be the cause of the child's behavior, and the thought that it could possibly be from something happening in the school environment external to the child is never entertained (We're Professionals, We Can Do NO Wrong).  Stu tried to work with the system (he, like the rest of us, was left little choice).  He went to meetings, revisited the IEP, tried to institute revisions of the behavioral plan after a specialist observed his son.  But things still didn't feel right to Stu, so he dropped a small audio recorder in Aiken's pocket, and sent him to school.

Now, if a kid was randomly being harassed by someone at the school, it might take weeks to catch that person in the act.  But Stu caught this in one day.  ONE DAY.  Which tells me such things were happening MOST DAYS.  Rather than being in a nurturing environment, Aiken is told to "shut his mouth" and called a bastard.  His teachers (by this, I include whoever it was-teacher or aides-that are caught on tape) display no sense of proper decorum, and instead exploit Aiken's anxiety regarding going to his mother's for the weekend by taunting him.

I have long advocated for audio visual recording in all public areas in a school, tapes of which would be available for review to parents and outside neutral parties whenever an "incident report" was filed on a child.  Audio and video recordings are great "neutral" observers.  Just ask Rodney King, as well as the truck driver that was senselessly pulled from his truck and beaten after that incident 20 years ago.  Incidents like what happened to Aiken surely take place every day across this country.  I am sure that most teachers are good, hardworking and dedicated to the welfare of their students.  And I suppose that although most of them might initially feel uncomfortable knowing that their actions were subject to review, most would also realize that such tapes could also be used to exonerate them if they were falsely accused.

My son Buddy Boy was almost expelled from Kindergarten 6 years ago, mostly because the principal of the school had it in for him.  It took nearly a year, a lawyer, and lots of money to straighten that out, but after being transferred to another school, he did fine.

Stu Chaifetz has repeatedly said that he's not at war with the school district.  He's even said that he doesn't want to sue the district.  He only wants what each of us would want for our child-justice.  He wants an apology, and he wants those involved to find other employment.  Unfortunately, the teacher from the classroom has been reassigned to the high school.  Stu, unsurprisingly, is steamed, and has started lobbying the state legislature to pass a law to try to prevent such a thing from happening again.  Meanwhile, Aiken's former teacher has hired a lawyer and threatened to sue Stu.  Stu has basically said "Bring. It. On."

I wouldn't bet against Stu in that matchup.