TODAY | November 15, 2011
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?
Ms. CHAFFINS: Huh?
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?
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 .
CURRY: Cheyanne , when Miss Kelly and Miss Christie said bad things to you, how did you feel?
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.