Long Beach School District officials sent a letter to the State Education Department last month, voicing their frustration with the lack of a decision by the agency on a public disciplinary hearing that ended in May 2017, involving a Long Beach Middle School teacher who was accused of abusing five of her special-education students between 2009 and 2014.
The teacher, Lisa Weitzman, was suspended, but continues to collect her $96,000 salary, school officials said, as a State Education Department arbitrator, Hearing Officer Robert Grey, reviews 29 days of testimony given over a 14-month period.
“It’s just unheard of for this to go on and on and on,” said School board President Dr. Dennis Ryan, who wrote the letter. “Why should we sit back? Because we’re paying the teacher.”
The district launched the hearing against Weitzman in 2016, which, after review by the Education Department, could result in disciplinary measures, such as her dismissal. The hearing was open to the public at Weitzman’s request.
The lack of a verdict in the case has also halted progress in other, related lawsuits, Long Beach school officials said. In 2016, the parents of five of Weitzman’s students filed a $25 million suit against the school district in Nassau County Supreme Court, claiming that district officials failed to act on complaints made by several teaching assistants.
“It’s completely stopped progress in the kids’ lawsuits,” said Gerard Misk, an attorney representing the students and their parents. “The case has been stayed for over a year now, pending the decision from the arbitrator.”
Additionally, the parents of one of the students filed a federal lawsuit in 2016 against the district, Weitzman and two of her teaching assistants, Lauren Schneider and Jean-Marie Lilley. Another parent, Shirlyn Summers, filed suit in Nassau County Supreme Court last year, alleging that Weitzman physically, sexually and mentally abused her daughter.
Weitzman filed her own lawsuit against the district in 2016, claiming that she was the subject of a malicious investigation. The lawsuit is stayed pending Grey’s decision, said Debra Wabnik, an attorney representing Weitzman, adding that the teacher expects to return to her teaching duties when a decision is rendered.
“Although waiting for Arbitrator Grey’s decision is difficult for Ms. Weitzman … Arbitrator Grey has a tremendous amount of evidence to process,” Wabnik said. “We appreciate that he is taking the time to thoroughly and diligently go through all the evidence, and I am sure that a decision will be made as soon as practicable.”
Weitzman was accused of using her classroom bathroom as a “timeout” room, cursing at students, pushing a student against a wall, digging a high heel into a student’s foot, threatening to use a zip tie to restrain students and binding a student’s hands with painter’s tape, among other allegations. She strongly denied the allegations and claimed that district administrators retaliated against her after she pushed for more resources for her classroom.
Wabnik has told the Herald in the past that Weitzman devoted herself to protecting her students and advocated for them to receive the same opportunities that general education students were offered.
“I can’t believe [Grey] hasn’t made up his mind already,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t as if he wasn’t working on the case prior to its closing.”
State Education Department officials confirmed that they have yet to reach a decision in the case.
“We can’t just sit back and wait another year,” Ryan continued. “We’re at least letting State Ed know we’re very frustrated with their intransigence.”
“I agree with Dr. Ryan in terms of how frustrating and difficult this is for the district, and I am sure for the families involved as well,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jennifer Gallagher.
“Enough is enough,” Ryan said. “We can’t begin another school year not knowing.”