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Video: Girl bullied by her own teachers

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    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 8:11 with a story about a 14-year-old special needs student who was called lazy and dumb at school , not by fellow students but by her teachers. We'll talk to the teenager in just a moment. But first, NBC 's John Yang has details, and we should warn that some of what you're about to hear is troubling.

    JOHN YANG reporting: Like most kids, 14-year-old Cheyanne had days when she just didn't feel like going to school , but when her complaints became more frequent, her family realized something wasn't right. Cheyanne was a special needs student at Miami Trace Middle School in Washington Court House , Ohio . Cheyanne 's family says it turns out she was being bullied, not by her classmates but her teacher , Christie Wilt , and a classroom aide, Kelly Chaffins . When Cheyanne 's family brought her complaints to the school , they were told she was lying. It wasn't until Cheyanne went to school with a hidden tape recorder that the family learned just how bad the situation was.

    Ms. KELLY CHAFFINS: Cheyanne , are you kidding me? Are you that damn dumb? Are you that dumb? Oh, my God. You are such a liar.

    CHEYANNE: I'm not lying.

    Ms. CHAFFINS: You told me you didn't know. It's no wonder you don't have friends. It's no wonder nobody likes you, because you lie, cheat, steal...

    CHEYANNE: I don't lie!

    BRIAN: We're listening to seven hours' worth of stuff on this tape. So we were up all night crying, upset, because we didn't understand why. We don't -- we didn't understand why this -- why would they do this?

    YANG: The tapes recorded four days of verbal abuse from Wilt and Chaffins .

    Ms. CHAFFINS: Cheyanne don't you want to do something to get rid of that belly?

    CHEYANNE: Yeah.

    Ms. CHAFFINS: Huh?

    CHEYANNE: Yes.

    Ms. CHAFFINS: Well, evidently you don't because you don't do anything at home. You sit at home and watch TV , all night, all weekend.

    Ms. CHRISTIE WILT: Ask your mom and dad to go for a walk.

    CHEYANNE: On the weekends they're busy.

    Ms. WILT: Doing what? Watching TV ? What?

    CHEYANNE: Yeah.

    YANG: In another recording, Cheyanne was told by her teacher that she'd flunked a test before the teacher even looked at it.

    Ms. WILT: You know what? Just keep it. You failed it. I know it. I don't need your test to grade. You failed it.

    YANG: And when Cheyanne answered a question incorrectly, she was sent to a treadmill as punishment.

    Ms. WILT: Go. Get on the treadmill.

    YANG: Fifteen minutes later...

    Ms. CHAFFINS: Well, you broke it. You broke it. Why don't you run in place instead?

    YANG: Cheyanne 's family said it wasn't until they provided tape-recorded proof that the school took action.

    Unidentified Man: There was distressing, disturbing things on that tape that caused us to act immediately.

    YANG: Chaffins was asked to resign. Her husband told NBC News that this happened last year and they had no further comment. According to the school 's attorney, at first Wilt was only required to complete eight hours of anti-bullying and child abuse training, but just Monday, the school put Wilt on unpaid leave until at least the end of the school year. Wilt didn't respond to our request for comment. For TODAY, John Yang , NBC News.

    CURRY: Cheyanne and her father, Brian , as well as their attorneys Dan Mordarski and Brian Garvine are here for an exclusive interview. Good morning, all of you.

    Mr. DAN MORDARSKI: Morning, Ann .

    BRIAN: Morning.

    CURRY: Cheyanne , when Miss Kelly and Miss Christie said bad things to you, how did you feel?

    CHEYANNE: Sad.

    CURRY: Brian , when you heard that tape, what was the first -- that -- for the first time , what went through you?

    BRIAN: Just -- we were shocked. We couldn't know. We didn't know.

    CURRY: And she'd been in that classroom for two years with those two same teachers.

    BRIAN: For three years.

    CURRY: Three years with those same teachers.

    BRIAN: Four years with Miss Kelly . It started in the fifth grade with Miss Kelly , where she jerked her up by her shirt and she got out of line, and so we called the school and -- you know. ' Miss Kelly wouldn't do that. We've known her for a long time.' That's what we got out of this whole thing, 'They wouldn't do this.'

    CURRY: You're talking about the school district .

    BRIAN: Right, the school district . Every time we went and called and -- then it got -- it wasn't so bad in the sixth grade, but her seventh-grade year, it got worse, and her eighth-grade year was just terrible. Just -- she didn't -- she got to where she didn't want to go to school . She -- and Cheyanne 's always loved school . We've never had a problem with her. And she was doing things that -- starting to harm herself to keep from going to school , so we knew we had to do something at that point. We weren't getting anywhere with the school . Every time we'd call, 'We didn't do that. She's making up stories.' It was always, ' Cheyanne 's lying. Cheyanne 's making up stories. She's taking parts of this story, parts of that story and making her own story.' So we went to the principal, same thing, you know, ' Cheyanne 's making up stories.' His investigation was talking to the -- or her teacher . So we weren't getting anywhere, anywhere with them. I went to the superintendent. The first time I ever spoke with the man, he told us that we were bordering on slander and harassment, to let it go, and he would guarantee me the best education possible for our daughter.

    CURRY: You wired your daughter. There was now -- after you wired your daughter and you got this evidence, the school district did get rid of the assistant teacher , no?

    BRIAN: No, not right off.

    CURRY: Not right away.

    BRIAN: Not right away.

    CURRY: But they -- but they did eventually.

    BRIAN: Well, I guess. I -- we were just told that she had resigned, not that they asked her to resign.

    CURRY: I see.

    BRIAN: Just that she resigned.

    CURRY: I see. How -- what would you describe as the damage? Do you know what the lingering damage is?

    BRIAN: We don't know. We don't know. Cheyanne right now is -- she's doing OK. She's trying to forget it. She knows that they did something bad to her, but we don't know years down the road what's going to happen.

    CURRY: You are here in part because you want to warn other parents, but also you want more justice. What more justice can you have? You already have filed a law -- a civil suit. You've gotten a financial reward. What more, legally, can this family get?

    Mr. MORDARSKI: Well, Ann , that's part of the problem, is that there's no good answer here. There's no good solution. But we don't think that this teacher and this aide should be working with students, especially special needs students.

    CURRY: So currently, this teacher can still work with students?

    Mr. BRIAN GARVINE: Yeah.

    CURRY: What would you -- requesting, that her teaching certificate -- you're

    talking about Christina Wittthe teacher who oversaw the teacher 's aide?

    Mr. GARVINE: Right. Right. We would like her to be terminated, is what we would like. The school , essentially, has done nothing. The Ohio Department of Education conducted an investigation. We believe they suspended her license for a year, which has been stayed if she does some continuing education . The school has just followed that lead. They haven't done anything in addition to that. So once she completes this continuing education , she's able to teach again.

    CURRY: It's emotional for Christineto sit here and hear what we're all saying. What do you hope? What good do you hope, Brian ?

    BRIAN: Well, I just hope that they do something with this teacher . She doesn't need to be around kids at all. She participated in it. She was right there. And as much as I don't like either one of these ladies for what they've done to her or any of the other children in that class -- I'm looking out for her, but also I'm worried about the other children in that class and what they went through. And for her to be the teacher -- the teacher 's aide, yeah, she lost her job or whatever, and as she should, but the teacher 's still allowed to teach and she participated with her. She was right there alongside her as she did it. She made her comments. So she's just as much to blame, if not more, because she's the one that takes that oath to protect our children, that -- she has the education, not that teacher 's aide.

    CURRY: All right. Well, on that note we'll have to leave it. I'll tell you one thing that Cheyanne has that makes her very lucky, and that's how much you love her.

    BRIAN: Yes, we love her very much, and we just...

    CURRY: That's a -- that's a lucky thing. You are so lucky that your dad loves you so much. I'm so glad to meet you and all of you. And I 'm sure this is not the last we'll hear from this. Thank you so much for being with us.

    Mr. MORDARSKI: Thanks, Ann .

    Mr. GARVINE: Thank you.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 11/15/2011 10:32:10 AM ET 2011-11-15T15:32:10

When a 14-year-old special needs student in Ohio told her father she was being bullied at school, he figured it was something that many teenagers endure.

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Then he realized it was his daughter’s teachers doing the bullying.

“We were shocked,’’ he tearfully said. “We couldn’t know. We didn’t know.’’

After being told repeatedly by school administrators that his daughter was lying about being harassed and bullied, he outfitted her with a hidden tape recorder under her clothes. For the next four days, she recorded a series of abusive and cutting remarks from a teacher and a teacher’s aide at Miami Trace Middle School in Washington Courthouse, Ohio.

The father, Brian, and his daughter, Cheyanne (their last names were withheld in the interview), appeared on TODAY with their attorneys Tuesday as snippets from the secret audio tapes were played.

When asked by Ann Curry how all of this made her feel, Cheyanne simply replied, “Sad.’’

Story: Reading, writing, rage: Are teachers going too far?

‘Are you that damn dumb?’
The tapes reveal teacher Christie Wilt and her teacher’s aide, Kelly Chaffins, saying disturbing things to Cheyanne in the classroom. Cheyanne, who is now in high school, was in Wilt’s class for three years of middle school. Chaffins has since resigned, while Wilt had to undergo eight hours of anti-bullying and child abuse training. On Monday, Wilt was put on unpaid leave for the rest of the school year, but Cheyanne’s family is hoping to prevent her from ever teaching or working with special needs students again.

Wilt, who did not respond to requests for an interview, can be heard on the recordings alongside Chaffins calling Cheyanne “lazy” and “dumb.”

“Cheyanne, are you kidding me? Are you that damn dumb? You are that dumb?’’ Chaffins can be heard saying in one instance. “Oh my God. You are such a liar. You told me you don’t know. It’s no wonder you don’t have friends. No wonder nobody likes you because you lie, cheat.’’

On another occasion, Chaffins can be heard poking fun at Cheyanne’s appearance.

TODAY
From left, teacher Christie Wilt and her teacher’s aide, Kelly Chaffins. Chaffins was asked to resign, but Wilt could enter a classroom again.

“Cheyanne, don’t you want to do something to get rid of that belly? Well evidently you don’t because you don’t do anything at home. You sit at home and watch TV. All night. All weekend.’’

In one instance, Wilt informs Cheyanne she has failed a test before Wilt even takes a glance at it.

“You know what? Just keep it,’’ Wilt can be heard saying. “You failed it. I know it. I don’t need your test to grade. You failed it.’’

Video: Video shows teacher swear, toss chair

Punished on treadmill
“Listening to seven hours’ worth of stuff on this tape, we were up all night, crying, upset, because we didn’t understand why,’’ Cheyanne’s father said tearfully. “Why would they do this?’’

On another day, Chaffins forced Cheyanne to walk on a treadmill as a punishment for getting a question wrong. The school district claimed the treadmill is just there to “refocus’’ students and not punish them. Chaffins later declares that Cheyanne has broken the treadmill and should run in place.

The problems for Cheyanne began in fifth grade and became progressively worse until culminating in an eighth-grade year that was “just terrible,’’ according to her father.

“She got to where she didn’t want to go to school,’’ Brian told Curry. “Cheyanne’s always loved school. We never had a problem with her. She was doing things, (and) starting to harm herself to keep from going to school, so we knew we had to do something at that point.’’

Cheyanne’s parents repeatedly contacted the school, only to be consistently rebuffed.

Story: Teacher’s scary classroom eruption captured on video

“We weren’t getting anywhere,’’ Brian said. “Every time we called, it was always, ‘Cheyanne’s lying, Cheyanne’s making up stories. She’s taking parts of this story, parts of that story, and making her own story.’ ’’

Her parents then went to the school’s principal, whose investigation consisted of speaking to Wilt and Chaffins, according to Brian. Feeling they were getting nowhere, Cheyanne’s parents then met with Miami Trace superintendent Dan Roberts.

“(That was) the first time we ever spoke with the man,” Brian said, “and he told us we were bordering on slander and harassment so (we should) let it go and he would guarantee me the best education possible,’’ Brian said.

After the damning evidence on the tapes was brought to school administrators’ attention, Chaffins was asked to resign, while Wilt, who was in charge of the classroom as the teacher, had to undergo the anti-bullying training. Roberts told a local television station that Wilt’s role in the incidents “did not meet what the educational aide (Chaffins) had done.’’

‘I just hope they do something’
The family filed a civil lawsuit against the school district and were awarded $300,000 in damages. But Brian felt he needed to go public with the story to prevent Wilt from being allowed back in the classroom. The family’s attorneys indicated that they would like Wilt to be terminated from her position.

Video: Girl bullied by her own teachers (on this page)

“I just hope they do something with this teacher,’’ Brian said. “She doesn’t need to be around kids at all. She participated in it, she was right there. I’m looking out for (Cheyanne), but also I’m worried about the other children in that class and what they went through.

“She’s (Wilt) just as much to blame, if not more, because she’s the one who takes that oath to protect our children. She has more education than the teacher’s aide.’’

As for Cheyanne, the full effects of the harassment on her are not yet known.

“Cheyanne right now, she’s doing OK,’’ her father said. “She’s trying to forget. She knows that they did something bad to her, but we don’t know years down the road what’s going to happen.’’

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