Was a teacher teaching violence?

April 25, 2008 8:37:23 PM PDT
A Philadelphia judge will have to decide if a teacher encouraged students to fight in class, and then if she acted as a referee. They are kids with special emotional and physical needs.

In exclusive cell phone video, two Martha Washington Elementary students are seen in a brutal fist fight.

Fellow classmates sit on their desks and watch, almost like it's a spectator sport.

Even more disturbing is the teacher, who appears to be doing nothing.

About 15 seconds go by before the instructor finally steps in and breaks it up.

"I was shocked and appalled at what I saw," said attorney Jill Fisher.

Fisher claims the teacher in the video is Tonia Brown. Fisher represents Perlyn Severe-Clark and Tracy Brice. In a civil suit, the two teacher's aides claim Brown directed and urged students to fight in the classroom.

"According to my clients there were a number of instances where these fights were instigated by the teacher," she said.

The lawsuit says the aides reported the fight as well as other alleged abuses by Brown, but they say their bosses ignored the complaints.

That's when one of the aides literally took matters into her own hands and recorded the fight with a cell phone.

"The teacher was aware that the fight was being videotaped, and asked my client to please destroy it, which she didn't and a few days later they were fired," Fisher explained.

But Brown kept her job. All three of the women worked for The Community Council for Mental Health and Mental Retardation. The Philadelphia School District hired the non-profit to staff and operate special education classrooms as part of the district's CARE program. The District has paid the program over 18-million dollars during the past three fiscal years.

"The parting words to each of my clients were we're not going to lose our funding because of you," Fisher said.

Aarie Anderson has two young boys in the CARE program. She's stunned by the allegations.

"That don't sit well with me. We send our children here to learn. To let these children to fight like that is not responsible," said Anderson.

We went to the council for reaction. We wanted to know if the allegations had been investigated and whether Brown was still working in the classroom.

Officials referred us to their lawyer. He had no comment.

We also went looking for Brown and made repeated attempts to get the district to sit down with us for an interview. Again, we were told no comment.

"This was wrong. This was the wrong thing. They did the right thing and they were terminated for it," Fisher said.

In court documents, the council claims it fired the aides for tardiness and substandard work. The aides say that's not true. This of course, will play out in the courts.