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Exclusive: Teacher removed from classroom

April 30, 2008

By Chad Pradelli
ABC 6 Action Newes

PHILADELPHIA - April 30, 2008 (WPVI) -- More fallout came today for a Philadelphia school teacher, following an Action News exclusive report last Friday.

Tonia Brown is accused of teaching violence in her classroom. Now, Brown has been removed from her special education classroom.

In exclusive cell phone video obtained by Action News, two Martha Washington Elementary students are seen trading punches. Fellow classmates sit on their desks and cheer. About 15 seconds go by before the teacher, Tonia Brown, steps in and breaks it up.

Parent Keera Stanton says her son was involved in the brawl.

"I was horrified, when I saw the tape, I was upset it was children, I knew it was his classroom," said Stanton.

Her 12-year-old son, Deion, says he's one of the boys fighting in the video. He claims fighting in the classroom is "common place."

"When the kids fight, they're allowed to fight," he said. "The kids moved their desks back and they were cheering us to keep fighting."

The teacher, Tonia Brown, is now at the center of a whistleblower lawsuit.

Attorney Jill Fisher said according to her clients, "there were a number of instances where these fights were instigated by the teacher."

Fisher represents Perlyn Severe Clark, a clinical therapist, and Traci Brice, a counselor. She says the two women were fired for recording the fight and reporting alleged abuses by Brown to their superiors. Tonia Brown, however, kept her job. She still was in the classroom yesterday, but the district says she's since been removed.

Clark and Brice's lawsuit also names the school district and the Community Council for Mental Health and Mental Retardation. The plaintiffs and teacher Tonia Brown worked for the Council. The Philadelphia School District outsources some special education classrooms to the non-profit at a tune of more than $18 million over three years.

Action News contacted the State Department of Education, trying to learn more about Tonia Brown's qualification. A spokesperson tells Action News Brown is not certified to be a teacher.

"It's very simple to me. Let the District hire enough special Ed teachers. Put them in the classroom. These problems did not exist years ago before they began outsourcing," said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan.

Action News went to the Community Council and called but was repeatedly told no comment. The district had the same response. So did acting district CEO Thomas Brady tonight.

Stanton said someone needs to be held accountable, "cause that's not how you deal with children, especially not children that have emotional issues."

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