MINEOLA, N.Y. (CN) – The mother of a child with Down syndrome wants $50 million from a Long Island school district amid allegations that students with special needs were sexually abused, beaten, hog-tied and duct-taped, forced to the ground and sat upon, force-fed to the point of vomiting, and locked in a bathroom.
Shirlyn Summers also claims that educators smoked pot in the classroom, and that the district’s superintendent, David Weiss, did nothing more than hold a mock investigation years after the alleged abuses came to light, terminating those who testified and quietly shuffling the three accused educators off. He then “conspired to conceal the acts of abuse to ensure that the district did not lose state and federal funding for its special education programs,” Summers says.
Summers’ 39-page lawsuit, filed Friday in Nassau County Supreme Court, details horrific abuse taking place between 2011 and 2014. During that time, Summers says teacher Lisa Weitzman and her teaching assistants, Jean Marie Lilley and Lauren Schneider, forced her 16-year-old daughter – identified as DB in court papers – and other students to masturbate in front of the class at Long Beach Middle School. The students were also encouraged to expose their genitalia in other ways, such as urinating in the classroom, while the teachers “would touch students and/or let students touch them in a sexual manner,” according to Summers.
The educators then kept the lights out to hide visible hand prints and injuries on the students, Summers says.
On one occasion, Summers recalls noticing her daughter “smelling different, that her clothes and hair would be disheveled, but [she] could not understand why.”
Summers says she later learned educators would scream abusive things at the girl, such as “she stinks,” and “she is disgusting,” spraying her down with Lysol.
At least 11 teacher’s aides temporarily assigned to Weitzman’s classroom complained to district officials since as early as 2009, Summers claims, but at least one was told to just “stick it out.”
District officials, including superintendent Weiss, “were deliberately indifferent toward the abuse, and did not undertake any investigation or disciplinary actions,” Summers says.
Instead, they “threatened and ordered the complaining witness to keep silent or to risk dismissal, transfer and other forms of retaliation,” according to the complaint.
An internal investigation finally began in the spring of 2014 after district officials received pictures depicting the alleged abuses.
Many of the complaining witnesses were transferred, fired, or forced to silently resign, according to the complaint.
In the end, “Weitzman was secretly suspended by the district in November 2014,” Summers says.
Summers added that she and other parents were left in the dark about the abuse until someone circulated an anonymous letter in October 2015.
Summers says the district began a public hearing in March 2016, which is still ongoing, “based on public outcry and increasing news media.”
She also accuses the school of racism, claiming that school district officials have contacted white children and their parents to discuss the abuse, but not black and other minority families like hers.
“Defendants viewed black females as less involved in school life, less likely to be involved in the lives of their children, and deliberately chose not to contact black families or minority families believing these families would be less likely to discover the abuse,” Summers says.
Summers and others have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for records associated with the alleged abuses, “but have been rebuffed by the district on grounds of privacy,” Summers said.
They took their case to court in 2016, and a judge approved their request to file a late notice of claim.
Summers seeks damages for negligence, negligent supervision, negligent retention, lack of due process, lack of equal protection, conspiracy, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, false imprisonment and failure to report child abuse, among other things.
Filing attorney Jeffrey K. Brown with Leeds Brown Law did not return a telephone call requesting comment Tuesday afternoon, while a representative for the school district said it's aware of the lawsuit but does not comment on pending litigation.
Parents of other children subjected to the alleged abuse have also filed a lawsuit in federal court.
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