But George Giuliani, executive director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and director of special education at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., says that while the documented mistreatment of children has been disturbing, secret recordings are a bad idea. They could, he said, violate the privacy rights of other children.
"We have to be careful that we're not sending our children in wired without knowing the legal issues," Giuliani said.
Stuart Chaifetz, the Cherry Hill father, said he began getting reports earlier in the school year that his 10-year-old son, Akian, was being violent.
Hitting teachers and throwing chairs were out of character for the boy, who is in a class with four other autistic children and speaks but has serious difficulty expressing himself. Chaifetz said he talked to school officials and had his son meet with a behaviorist. There was no explanation for the way Akian was acting.
"I just knew I had to find out what was happening there," he said. "My only option was to put a recorder there. I needed to hear what a normal day was like in there."
On the recording, he heard his son being insulted — and crying at one point.
He shared the audio with school district officials. The superintendent said in a statement that "the individuals who are heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district."
Since taking the story public, Chaifetz, who has run unsuccessfully for the school board in Cherry Hill and once went on a hunger strike to protest special-education funding cuts, said he has received thousands of emails.
At least a few dozen of those he has had a chance to read have been from parents asking for advice about investigating alleged mistreatment of their children.