February 26, 2014 - Goodrich-A minute long video recorded on a cell phone by an Oaktree Elementary teacher of her10-year old student with Asperger's Syndrome lodged in a desk chair sparked the ire and concerns of parents and others during Monday's school board meeting.
Teacher Nicole McVey was removed from the classroom following the incident, which occured in November. During the December school board meeting, the board voted 5-1 to dismiss McVey and in closed session OK'd tenure charges.
At the same December meeting, Oaktree Principal Michael Ellis, who was aware of the video, resigned.
Details regarding the classroom incident were released to the media last week when an attorney for the parents of the youth provided a video of him lodged in a hole between the seat and back rest of a classroom chair. That video was aired on a Flint televison station and drew a host of new concerns for those who support McVey. Many of those at the Monday meeting posted signs in support of McVey and spoke in her defense.
Scott Bogner, district superintendent, responded to concerns regarding the Oaktree Elementary incident during the December meeting.
"In any situation where tenure questions are raised, the board judges the severity of the behaviors against best educational practices and also against district policies," he said. "In the event that the behaviors are clearly not in keeping with the policies of the district, raise concerns about professional judgment or concerns regarding activities associated with the children in a particular classroom, then and only then would a board engage in a decision to file tenure charges. As superintendent, what is important to me is that we make sure that all classroom behaviors are consistent with our policies related to professionalism and excellence. As a former teacher myself, I know the importance of serving each student in a way that allows that student dignity and compassion."
Holly Francis has a 10 year-old son that was in McVey's elementary classroom. She spoke at the school board meeting in support of McVey and on Wednesday with The Citizen newspaper.
"I'm finding the more national media attention this story gets, the more misconstrued its getting," Francis said. "I want it to be known that the video in question was taken as a way to help this student and to provide a visual aid for the student and his parents to help teach him the consequences of his behavior. It is with my understanding that Mrs. McVey was documenting the child's behavior in anticipation of his father's scheduled conference with her."
"Just like the rest of us in the class, I believe the parents of this child specifically requested Mrs. McVey to be his teacher because they had her last year in fourth grade and they know how well she works with their son," she said.
"I don't believe there was any intent to harm or humiliate the child," she said. "The children of the classroom have nothing but respect and compassion for this child. I am witness to this because I have spent a lot of time volunteering in the classroom. Many of the kids in the classroom are part of a Peer to Peer program where they take this child under their wing during recess and lunch. They include him in social play and interaction."
"Mrs. McVey created an environment in her classroom where everyone is respected and accepted," she said. "I believe this situation and other disruptions are not the fault of the child. I place the blame on the lack of funding which is necessary to provide better education and training for our teachers and more support for our special needs children. These teachers need more processes and procedures in place so that every child in our district gets the best education possible."
Patrick Greenfelder, a attorney for the student's parents, said the public outcry directed toward their son prompted the release of the video to the media. There was no indication from Greenfelder the parents were going to pursue legal action.
"The parents of the young man who was stuck in his desk did not want this situation to come out to the public," he said, during a phone interview on Tuesday. "Now the situation keeps coming up at the school board meetings. Clearly the school board can't say anything—there's a privacy issues for the parents and the student."
Greenfelder said the mother of the youth came home and saw an article in a local newspaper that reported Goodrich parents overwhelmingly supported the teacher with regard to the incident.
"She (the boy's mother) broke down and was visibly upset after she read that story," he said. "This was a private incident in the classroom—the youth's mother did not want the news out of what went on in the classroom. Then to hear some of the comments made by the public, not supportive of the son, rather of the teacher, was just too much. It's offensive."
During the video, McVey asks the student, "Do you want to be Tasered?"
"The video was not funny or a joke," he said. "Making the video is bad enough, then to e-mail it to buddies so they can watch it and 'yuk-it-up'—so all the kids can laugh at him? Then make a comment toward the student regarding a Taser? I know what a Taser is to me, I don't know what the child is supposed to think when the kid is freaking out," he added. "A Taser to most people is a lot more than a joke."
Greenfelder said others had stopped by the classroom when the student was in the desk to help, but the teacher just let him stay there.
"No one was allowed to help this child and when they did—they were turned away," he said. "I understand the janitor was just a door or two away from the classroom. That janitor was very good with the young man and the school administration did a good job when they saw the video that had been sent around. The school administration knew this action (by McVey) was inappropriate and followed through with an investigation."
The boy, along with classmates, were at their desks during inside recess when the incident occured, added Greenfelder.
"He was stuck in the desk up to a half hour—he's crying and struggling to get out," he said. "A week later he still had broken blood vessels in his eyes, from struggling."
"The parents don't want to take him out of the district," he said. "To move an autistic child is difficult—they would love to go back to the way it was, before the video."
"I feel bad for the teacher," he said. "She may have been the best in the world."