OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Two teachers have been removed from a Ventura Elementary School classroom while deputies investigate allegations of child abuse, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said.
In a letter written Friday, Principal Ashley Condo notified some parents that two teachers were reassigned to duties outside of the classroom following allegations they inappropriately restrained students by taping them to their chairs.
“The proper authorities have been notified so that the allegations can be investigated,” Condo wrote in the letter. “The classroom will be staffed with permanent substitute teachers until further notice.”
Investigators were notified of the allegations Thursday, more than a month after the alleged misconduct happened, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said.
“My son happens to be in one of the teacher’s classes so we were made aware by letter, which I thought was kind of inappropriate,” parent Tony Hill said. “Nothing happened with him, but he was a witness to what was happening in the classroom.”
Hill said he would have preferred to have been informed in person or by phone because the letter left him wondering if his son was a victim.
When Hill asked his son what he witnessed in class, he described one of his classmates having his wrists and his ankles taped to a chair.
The School District of Osceola County said the teachers remain employed with the school as detectives investigate the allegations.
The Department of Children and Families is assisting the Sheriff’s Office in the investigation.
DeSoto teacher allegedly shoves paper towels down student’s throat
Posted: Dec 09, 2016 5:37 PM ESTUpdated: Dec 09, 2016 5:37 PM EST
Police, parents, ex-employee voice concerns of abuse at AEF School in Davie
The $23,500 yearly tuition at the AEF School in Davie was supposed to ensure a nurturing learning environment for troubled students based on a novel South African educational method.
Instead it was mental — and in at least one case physical — abuse that topped the private school’s curriculum, according to parents, ex-teachers, students and police. And in cases of bad language, administrators’ main teaching tool was a spoonful of hot sauce.
The arrest this week of teacher David Michael Baier on two counts of child abuse for yanking a 12-year-old autistic boy out of a chair by his hair, then slamming him to the ground, opened a floodgate of complaints from parents about similar cases of abuse.
Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle said detectives will closely review each report. “We’ve received over a dozen complaints from concerned parents,” he said. “Our involvement with the school is not only expected to continue, but will probably escalate.”
The AEF School — or Alternative Education Foundation — has two campuses blocks apart in Davie and a third in Lantana in Palm Beach County. The school, formerly known as Kentwood Preparatory, is owned by the Fein family, which hails from South Africa. In 2010, according to the most recent publicly available tax records, it had 31 employees and generated $3 million in revenue. Lance Fein, its director, earned $119,000 that year.
Fein did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
According to the school’s website, AEF specializes in students who can’t function in traditional schools and relies on an alternative educational system that preaches three commandments: “Life is not fair,” “Think it but don’t say it,” and “Learn to play the game.”
Students were punished for using inappropriate language by having to swallow hot sauce. “That’s child abuse,” Engle said. “Parents have been arrested for doing just that.” Particularly disturbing, the captain said, was a form letter sent to parents seeking permission for the punishment that one former teacher said occurred almost daily.
“We model respect, manners, and etiquette for our students,” an AEF job listing states. “The level of intensity we work at leaves you emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day.”
But intense emotional and physical abuse is what parents cite in their complaints.
Allen Kopelman, of Coral Springs, pulled his 16-year-old troubled son out of the school in April after it sent him an email stating, “If he is disruptive or instigates other students he will be physically restrained.”
When he went to the school to discuss the threat, Kopelman encountered an angry Baier. “This guy’s out of control. He’s yelling at me, pointing his finger,” he said. “If I had known what was going on there, I wouldn’t have put my son in there.”
Baier, 49, of Davie, is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 270 pounds.
“There were multiple complaints that I would hear from parents,” said Mike Maynard, who taught there for four years. “Most of the complaints were on Baier, and there were a couple of complaints about Mr. Fein as well.”
Maynard said the school had a GAG, or Get A Grip policy, in which misbehaving students were sent to Principal Lynette Van Heyzen’s office for disciplining. If a child kicked Van Heyzen, “she would kick them back with her heel,” Maynard said.
“Lance Fein pulled a child down the sidewalk all the way to his office,” the ex-teacher said.
The two Davie schools have been involved in 28 lawsuits from 2007 to 2012, while the Lantana school had 32 suits between 2002 and 2011. In nearly all cases, it appears the school was suing parents for money owed. In one case, however, the school made a confidential settlement with a couple who had sued it.
Police have been called to the Davie campuses 67 times from January 2010 to the present. Calls ranged from missing or suspicious persons to burglary to juvenile disturbances.
Sean Hartman, who graduated from the school in 2009, filed a police report over being dosed with hot sauce after uttering a vulgarity in 2007. He vomited the initial mouthful, and was forced to ingest the rest.
“It was horrendous,” he said. “Burning doesn’t really describe it. I was literally at the water fountain gulping down water.”
Hartman, now 21 and a college student in Cape Coral, said he also witnessed Fein dragging a preteen boy across a cement floor. “It was like watching a bear take prey into a cave,” he said. ” ‘This is illegal, this is illegal!’ the kid screamed.”
Experts say reward, not punishment, is a far more efficient means of shaping behavior. “There is no doubt that people will respond to punishment, but what tends to happen is in order for it to keep working you have to keep upping the ante and making the punishment harsher,” said Dr. Jeffry P. Brosco, associate director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
“Since there is no evidence that you need to punish for children to behave, there’s no good reason I can think of to use it.”
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Ex-teacher at Davie school arrested on new child cruelty charge
A former teacher at an alternative school in Davie is facing a new charge for alleged cruelty toward a 9-year-old autistic boy who attended a summer program there.
David Michael Baier, 50, was arrested in August on two counts of child abuse for allegedly yanking a 12-year-old autistic boy out of a chair by his hair at AEF School and then slamming him to the ground. Baier has been free on bail while that case is pending.
After Baier’s arrest last summer, Capt. Dale Engle of the Davie Police Department said the agency had received more than a dozen complaints from concerned parents.
The accuser in the new charge claimed that Baier “pushed his head to the floor,” Broward County Judge John “Jay” Hurley said at a Monday morning court hearing. Hurley set bond at $2,500 on the new charge.
Baier’s attorney, Steven Swickle, declined to comment.
AEF School — or Alternative Education Foundation — has two campuses blocks apart in Davie and a third in Lantana in Palm Beach County.
The incident which formed the basis of the first arrest was captured on video, Engle said.
“I understand that some of these teachers are forced to use some type of physical force to restrain these children,” Engle said. “But based on what I saw on the video, it was well in excess of what any acceptable force would be. ”
School officials did not respond to a phone request for comment Monday.
The two Davie schools have been involved in 28 lawsuits from 2007 to 2012, while the Lantana school had 32 suits between 2002 and 2011. In nearly all cases, it appears the school was suing parents for money owed. In one case, however, the school made a confidential settlement with a couple who had sued, records show.
Staff Writer Ihosvani Rodriguez contributed to this report.
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The mother of a 12-year-old autistic boy who was reportedly abused by a teacher at the Alternative Education Foundation school in Davie held a news conference about the case on Thursday.
David Baier is accused of grabbing the student by his hair, throwing him to the ground, and pinning him down.
“He says, ‘Mommy, he pulled my hair and he threw me and it hurt,'” said the boy’s mother. “My heart broke. That’s my little boy. You never, ever. I trusted these people. I wanted what was best for my son and I trusted these people.”
Earlier in the day, a Broward County judge gave Baier, who faces two counts of child abuse, a $2,000 bond. The judge said Baier couldn’t return to AEF schools or contact the alleged 12-year-old victim. He posted bond on Thursday evening.
Elias Hilal, the victim’s attorney, said his client hasn’t had issues at the school in the past, having been there for only one week.
“He was recommended to this school,” said Hilal. “This school holds itself to be an elite private school that handles behavioral students, and given this kid has autism he was going there, he was putting his trust in this school because this school holds themselves out to be elite.”
Hilal said the family wants to the school to take responsibility for the abuse of their son, adding that he has other clients who have made similar allegations against AEF schools only to be ignored.
“They reported this to the school. We have other clients that also reported the same kind of allegations in the past to the school and the school’s completely ignored them,” said Hilal.
Baier has been a teacher at the AEF schools for more than 25 years, his attorney told Local 10. He offered no other comment on the case.
The school itself, AEF Elementary, has not commented.