Principal resigns as school board pursues charges against teacher.
GOODRICH, Mich. — Facing the ground with his torso stuck through the open back of a school desk chair, a 10-year-old boy wipes tears from his eyes as a classroom bustles around him.
"Do you want to get Tasered?" a woman asks.
The cell phone video, shot last year at Oaktree Elementary in Goodrich, has led to the resignation of the school's principal and the filing of tenure charges against the teacher who shot the video, according to an attorney for the boy's family.
The footage has sparked outrage but also divided the rural community southeast of Flint. Some people have rallied behind the teacher, who could lose her job.
"I am almost at a loss for words, to be honest. My son did nothing wrong, but yet this seems to be another case of blaming the victim," the boy's mother wrote in a letter to her attorney, Patrick Greenfelder.
Greenfelder said teacher Nicole McVey shot the video in November in her fifth-grade classroom. The boy stuck in the chair has Asperger's syndrome, a milder form of autism.
The school board decided last month to proceed with tenure charges against McVey. The school's principal, Michael Ellis, has resigned.
On the 53-second video, a woman Greenfelder identified as McVey says, "How did you get in that situation?" The boy, his face reddened, wipes his eyes.
"We are waiting for the maintenance to come help you get out because you can't get out without maintenance help," the woman says. "If you wouldn't have put your head in there to begin with, we wouldn't be in this situation."
A man that Greenfelder identified as Ellis can be heard saying, "It's really not an emergency in their book."
Greenfelder said the boy broke blood vessels in his eyes as he struggled to free himself. He believes the child was trapped for 10 to 15 minutes before a maintenance worker freed him.
"Watching the video of my son trapped in the chair is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," the boy's mother wrote. "I felt incredibly helpless watching my son sobbing on the screen. ... He was pleading for help, and they just continued to watch him and almost taunt him with their lack of compassion."
Greenfelder said McVey shot the video using the cell phone of a paraprofessional assigned as the boy's aide. He said McVey sent the video to her own e-mail, and that she, Ellis and the paraprofessional shared it with others.
"The teacher is sending it to other teachers and her friends, and the principal is also sending it around for laughs, apparently," he said.
McVey showed the video in her classroom, Greenfelder said.
Greenfelder said a bullying liaison at the school alerted Superintendent Scott Bogner about the video. He showed it to the boy's parents.
Bogner gave McVey and Ellis the option to resign or be fired, Greenfelder said. McVey is fighting to keep her job and, according to Greenfelder, has been placed on paid administrative leave.
McVey and Ellis could not be reached by the Free Press.
Bogner told the Free Press in an e-mailed statement that he can't talk in detail about the case. He noted that, under teacher tenure law, McVey has a right to a private hearing.
"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."
Greenfelder said he decided to publicly release the video to a TV station earlier this week because people have continued to express support for the teacher — and, in some cases, cast blame on the boy or his family.
During the Jan. 13 school board meeting, several people spoke in support of McVey. Minutes from the meeting show that a fifth-grade student handed out a list from a Facebook page he made to support the teacher.
"He explained how the event occurred the day and that the student involved was laughing and joking and telling kids and the lunch ladies what happened to him," the minutes say. "He feels Mrs. McVey never made fun of him."
The school board voted 5-1 to proceed with tenure charges against McVey.
The boy's mother said in the letter to her attorney that her son had a rough morning and can get anxious over his math work. Squirming through his chair was his way of trying to get out of an unpleasant task, she said.
She said "Tasered" is supposedly a term sometimes used by the teacher as a joke, but "this was no time to be joking around."
She said she is concerned about her son being labeled as a problem child.
"The anxiety I am experiencing over this is to the extreme," the woman wrote. "We didn't do anything wrong, and we are now having to defend ourselves."
Greenfelder said no decision has been made about possible litigation.