I-team exclusive: Teacher under investigation after student records outburst

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The Fox 8 I-TEAM is investigating a complaint to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District about outrageous and profane comments allegedly made by a teacher and recorded by a student with a cell phone.

A mother told us she couldn’t believe what she heard. She says in late January her 17-year-old learning disabled son came home from Jane Addams High School with a cell phone recording of two teachers—one talking loudly saying a special needs kid getting a degree is a waste of time.

“My son was hurt by what she said. Emotionally hurt. He’s terrified to go to school,” the student’s mother told us.

“They wanted to abuse this child,” said family attorney Steven Moody.

Moody says the student and two teachers talked in the hallway, outside a classroom about his plans for college. Moody adds the teachers went into the classroom but at least one was still talking so loudly about the 17-year-old learning disabled student that he and anyone else in the hall, including another student in the hall with him, could hear her. The student recorded what the attorney described as the teacher’s abusive comments, from the hallway.

The attorney says he’s met with the district about the inappropriate comments and the recording of them. But adding to the family’s outrage, Steven Moody says the district is now threatening felony charges against the student—saying the teachers had a private conversation, and recording them like that without their knowledge is illegal.

The I-TEAM made a records request and obtained the district incident report, which included a number of redactions, including a transcript of the recorded comments. That transcript is reproduced here from an unredacted version of that incident report:

“'You are not graduating yo momma, yo momma has disservice you." "To walk these damn halls to get a sue do diploma so she can feel good about her f----dumb a-- life and she has deceived that kid." "You going to walk these halls for four years because your mom wants you to get a degree, a damn Special Ed f----- degree at that.”

According to the incident report, the principal told investigators, the student reported he was sitting in front of classroom 218 with a fellow student and could hear teacher Debra White speaking about him in a negative manner.

Another teacher told investigators she and Ms. White spoke to the student about hanging in the hallways and studying hard for college. She also told investigators that she and Ms. White then went into her classroom and closed the door.

The teacher said she was getting ready for classes while Ms. White was talking, so she does not remember what Ms. White said.  But she remembered, moments later,  she heard a loud sound like someone had kicked or hit her classroom door. And according to the report, she heard the student say, “ You bald head b---- b----- I just recorded you.”

The incident report says teacher Debra White refused the principal’s offer for her to make a statement. White’s personnel file, also obtained through an I-TEAM records request,  shows years ago she wrote on an application, she wants to “encourage students” and “provide ways for them to be successful.”

Attorney Moody says, “I don’t believe teachers should allow themselves to be overcome with emotion to the point they abuse a child.”

In a statement to Fox 8, the school district said: "When a teacher is alleged to have engaged in unprofessional conduct, the matter is handled under guidelines established in the collective bargaining agreement between the District and the Cleveland Teachers Union. The process is confidential unless and until the Board of Education votes to impose discipline.

Unfortunately, Channel 8's report on the incident was based on a secretly tape recorded conversation that took place behind closed doors between two adults who had a reasonable expectation of privacy and who did not give permission for their conversation to be recorded. It is regrettable that Channel 8 proceeded with airing the conversation after being informed by the district that doing so could be a violation of law."

We reached out to the teacher’s union, too. The union says it can’t comment while the investigation is pending. The district has not given us a timetable for its investigation or said whether charges will be filed against the student. But the family’s lawyer says the district has threatened him with charges too for sharing the recording with the I-TEAM.

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