This was our case:
Teacher, aide bullied student, 14
WASHINGTON C.H., Ohio — A Fayette County school district has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the mother of a 14-year-old special-needs student who was ridiculed last spring — on tape — by her teacher and a classroom aide.
The Miami Trace Local School District also says it will abide by a state-brokered agreement that places the teacher, a licensed intervention specialist, on what amounts to probation and requires her to complete eight hours of training in how to recognize child abuse and stop bullying.
The teacher, Christie J. Wilt, 30, “engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession when she made inappropriate comments to a student with disabilities and allowed a co-worker to make inappropriate comments to a student with disabilities,” according to a consent agreement signed last month by Wilt and Stan Heffner, the state’s superintendent of public instruction.
The classroom aide, Kelly L. Chaffins, 46, who had worked at Miami Trace Middle School since August 2008, was asked to resign by the district after her comments came to light.
Wilt’s and Chaffins’ remarks were made over a four-day period in April and captured on a tape recorder that the student’s mother had hidden on her daughter after hearing her complain about her treatment at school.
The girl, now a freshman at Miami Trace High School, told WBNS-TV (Channel 10) last week that the comments made her “pretty sad.”
Miami Trace Superintendent Dan Roberts said district officials were “distressed, very upset and angered by what was on those tapes.”
Daniel R. Mordarski, a Columbus attorney representing the student and her family, said Miami Trace officials should have fired Wilt, a teacher there since August 2007, as soon as they heard the comments.
“What’s shocking to me is that there is one teacher that is still employed by the district,” he said.
In one of the recordings made in April, Chaffins can be heard asking the student why she said she didn’t know the answer to a question.
“Because I didn’t know,” the student said.
“Are you kidding me?” the aide said. “Are you that damn dumb? You are that dumb? ... Oh, my God. You are such a liar.”
“I am not lying,” the student said.
“No wonder you don’t have friends,” Chaffins said. “No wonder nobody likes you.”
On another occasion, Wilt and Chaffins teased the student about her body.
“Don’t you want to do something about that belly?” Chaffins said.
“Yes,” the girl said.
“Well, evidently you don’t, because you don’t do anything at home,” the aide said. “You sit at home and watch TV.”
Another time, after the student failed to answer a question correctly, Wilt ordered her to climb onto an exercise treadmill, which was in the classroom to help “refocus” special-needs students, district officials said later.
The recordings suggest that the student spent more than 15 minutes on the treadmill — with the speed steadily increasing. Eventually, the treadmill stopped working, and the girl was told to run in place.
When the girl’s mother and the mother’s boyfriend complained about that incident and the comments, Chaffins said they were “liars raising a liar.” That remark also was recorded.
An initial investigation by Roberts found no inappropriate conduct by Wilt or Chaffins. In fact, in an email, the superintendent said the accusations were “bordering on slander and harassment."
Only after he was presented with the recordings did Roberts change his mind.
“When we found audio proof, we acted immediately,” he said.
District officials demanded — and received — Chaffins’ resignation. She was making $16,132 a year, school records show.
They did not, however, seek Wilt’s resignation. She is paid $41,292 a year.
“We felt that the level of her involvement there did not meet what the educational aide had done,” Roberts said.
However, district officials did forward the matter to the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Professional Conduct and promised to comply with the agency’s disciplinary findings.
Under the resulting agreement, which Heffner signed Oct. 31, Wilt will be suspended if she fails to complete the anti-bullying training by June 1 or engages in any other “unbecoming conduct.”
Wilt declined to comment, and Chaffins could not be located.