A 6-year-old was verbally and physically abused by educators at two different Broward schools, both incidents captured by recording devices, a new lawsuit says.

Max Segelbaum, a 6-year-old non-verbal student with autism, was in a classroom at Pasadena Lakes Elementary in Pembroke Pines in May where he was subjected to “heinous acts” by teacher Tahisha Brown and classroom aide Joyce Bradley, according to a lawsuit his parents, Jason and Lauren Segelbaum, filed Nov. 22 against the school district.

The interactions, captured by an audio recorder, included “demeaning comments, threats of violence, use of foul language, mocking, bullying, vindictiveness, humiliation and other horrendous actions,” the suit says.

This school year Max transferred to Dania Elementary, where another teacher, Halyna Shvank, acted inappropriately toward him, the lawsuit says. In a video taken on a student teacher’s cellphone, Max is “being yelled at, grabbed, shaken and having his head pushed in various directions,” the lawsuit says.

“The school district is responsible for ensuring our child is safe at all times,” Jason Segelbaum told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Our child was hurt and continues to be hurt,”

None of the three employees could be reached for comment, despite attempts by phone and email Tuesday and Wednesday. All three are under investigation and have been reassigned to jobs with no student contact until their cases are resolved, said a statement from the office of Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch.

“The district takes all matters involving student safety very seriously,” the statement said. “Due to open and ongoing investigations, as well as potential open and ongoing litigation, the district is not able to comment.”

Lawyer Martin Berger, who represents the Segelbaums, said he is also representing the parents of two other children in the same Pasadena Lakes classroom.

The issues at the school became public after a student in Brown and Bradley’s class swore at home, prompting his parents to send him to school with a recording device attached to his backpack. They sent their findings to authorities, saying the educators could be heard swearing and lashing out at students, many of whom have trouble communicating.

Pembroke Pines Police and the Broward State Attorney’s Office reviewed the case, and both decided not to pursue criminal charges.

When the Pasadena Lakes allegations first surfaced in May, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie met with the parents of seven children in the classroom and vowed that the teacher and the aide would never work in Broward County again, parents said. But the Broward Teachers Union has argued they are entitled to due process.

The “authenticity” of the audio had never been verified and “it doesn’t prove the teachers cursed at children — they could have been talking to each other,” Union President Anna Fusco said in July. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”

Fusco didn’t respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.

Remember the Pasadena Lakes parents who discovered through a GPS tracking/recording device that school staff members acted inappropriately toward their child (& everyone got a robocall about it)? A @browardschools lawyer says such devices shouldn’t be allowed in schools.

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The school district allowed the Segelbaums to transfer Max from Pasadena Lakes to the school of their choice, and they picked Dania Elementary, the father said.

A student teacher assigned to the class “became so disgusted with the behavior of Ms. Shvank towards the students, that he videotaped Ms. Shvank abusing her students,” the lawsuit says.

The inappropriate behavior happened, even though Principal Janet Phelps had been told about the incident at Pasadena Lakes, the lawsuit says.

Neither Phelps “nor any other principal I know would wittingly put a child in any situation where they would be subject to harm,” said Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association. “Principals are adamant in reporting and have zero tolerance for violence against students.”

The lawsuit claims the district knew it needed teachers “who were trained in how to properly teach and handle non-verbal autistic children, yet provided the teachers … with no training and/or inefficient training.”

After meeting with Pasadena Lakes parents, State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said she decided to sponsor legislation this session that would require cameras in the classrooms of special needs children. Parents would be allowed to view footage of their children but faces of other children would be obstructed to protect their privacy, she said.

She said teachers shouldn’t be afraid of the cameras.

“If they haven’t done anything wrong, they should have nothing to hide,” she said. “It also goes a long way to keep them safe if something happens to them in their classroom.”

Max is now at Dania Elementary with another teacher, but Jason Segelbaum said he and his wife are looking for a private school.

“The public school system is not capable of doing what is needed to protect our son,” he said.


Video shows special education teacher being hostile toward student with autism