DETROIT — The parents of a Michigan elementary school student who was videotaped while stuck in a classroom chair "have no recourse" but to sue now that the school district has decided not to follow through on its plan to fire the boy's teacher, their lawyer said Friday.
Patrick Greenfelder said his clients were blindsided at a meeting Wednesday they believed was called to discuss a hearing over Goodrich Area Schools' effort to fire Nicole McVey.
Instead, the parents were told the Flint-area district planned to withdraw tenure charges against McVey and suspend her for a year, according to Greenfelder, who said they then were handed a letter of apology from McVey.
In it, McVey, who has not spoken publicly since she was placed on leave following the incident that took place the week before Thanksgiving, writes that she has "learned the severity" of her mistake.
"I have thought about November 22 every single day for the last 5 months and wish I could change every part of it," wrote McVey, who has spent 14 years in the district about 40 miles northwest of Detroit.
The video shows the boy, who has Asperger's syndrome, with his chest resting on the chair's seat and his head and arms stuck through an opening in the back. The voices of a woman and a man can be heard on the recording. Those belong to McVey and Oaktree Elementary School's then-Principal Michael Ellis, said Greenfelder, who accused them of taunting his clients' son.
The Associated Press is not identifying the parents or the boy due to his age.
The footage caused an uproar when it was released to a television station in February.
But close to 200 pages of district email correspondence obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request indicate the three months between the video's creation and its public airing were tumultuous as well.
The emails show that Superintendent Scott Bogner quickly placed Ellis and McVey on leave and set about investigating. By January, Ellis had resigned and Bogner proposed that tenure charges be brought against McVey, a recommendation the school board approved. A message seeking comment was left with Ellis on Friday.
Bogner, meanwhile, delicately responded to emails from parents and students concerned about McVey's absence.
On Dec. 9, Bogner told a student who wanted McVey back that he was "sorry that you guys have to be in the middle of this adult stuff." Three days later, Bogner replied to a parent that some of the frustration "everyone is feeling" is "being fueled by gossip, rumors and drama."
More than a dozen members of the public spoke during the Jan. 13 meeting at which the tenure charges against McVey were approved. Many more emailed Bogner and the board in the ensuing weeks.
Eventually, excitement about the video quieted.
That is, until the board voted 6-0 on Thursday to suspend McVey for a year without pay or benefits. She also agreed to attend remedial training focused on classroom relationships and the handling of student information.
That change infuriated the student's parents.
While the district may have hoped that the apology letter would satisfy the parents, it was the opposite, Greenfelder said.
"Through all of this mess, the clients had been fully supportive of the superintendent and the school board on this difficult decision," he said. "Now, for whatever reason, they have reneged on the promise. ... A lawsuit appears to be their only recourse."
School board President David Cramer said he had no comment beyond a statement announcing the settlement with McVey.
Bogner, who in an email to the board in mid-December wrote that he believed "adults behaved in a manner that was unprofessional and hurtful," is resigning, effective June 30. A message seeking comment on his decision was left Friday.
As for the boy, Greenfelder said he is "doing much better" under the guidance of the replacements for Ellis and McVey.
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