DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan teacher humiliated a student with Asperger’s syndrome by videotaping him after he became wedged in a chair and showing the footage to his fifth-grade class and her colleagues, the school’s superintendent wrote in a letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
Goodrich Area Schools Superintendent Scott Bogner sent the letter to the school board to summarize his investigation into what happened Nov. 22 in teacher Nicole McVey’s classroom at Oaktree Elementary School. The letter reveals for the first time that McVey was holding the recording device, suggested the video be sent to a national television show, and continued showing it to colleagues after several told her it was inappropriate.
Bogner wrote that once the boy became stuck, McVey “castigated” him and “refused to allow another adult to help him.”
The video shows the child with his chest resting on the seat and his head and arms protruding through an opening in the back. According to the letter, McVey took photos with her camera and borrowed a staffer’s smartphone to record video, announcing “it would be funny” to have the footage for “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
Maintenance workers eventually freed the boy, who was stuck for about 10 minutes. When the class reconvened, McVey played the video on a large-screen television for all the students — including the boy, Bogner said.
“It was particularly callous for Ms. McVey to force (the student) to be present while others laughed at his predicament,” Bogner wrote, adding that McVey later showed the video to fellow teachers and staff members.
Messages seeking comment were left Friday with McVey’s lawyer, William Young, who wrote in a filing that his client “did not take the video of the student for malicious purposes.”
In the letter, sent to the school board in January, Bogner recommended that McVey be fired.
“Teachers are not to humiliate and ridicule students, particularly special-needs students,” he wrote.
Six days later, the school board voted 5-1 to remove McVey through the state’s teacher tenure process, but the teacher appealed. Some students, parents and fellow teachers spoke at the Jan. 13 school board meeting in support of McVey and criticized board members for voting to dismiss her.
But the boy’s parents, upset that McVey was lauded by people who hadn’t seen the video, authorized their lawyer to release the video to a local TV station — and the airing in February generated uproar in the community, about an hour’s drive northwest of Detroit. The school board changed course on May 8, suspending McVey for a year without pay or benefits.
In a letter given to the boy’s parents and the school board, McVey, who has taught in the Goodrich district for 13 years, wrote that she was “truly sorry” and acknowledged that she “made a very bad series of choices on that day.”
But the board’s choice not to fire McVey angered the boy’s parents.
On Friday, the family’s attorney, Patrick Greenfelder, said he had submitted a lawsuit to Genesee County Circuit Court. He said it was “their only recourse.”
That lawsuit names as defendants McVey, then-Principal Michael Ellis, the school district and Terri Oliver, a paraprofessional assigned to assist the child. It seeks more than $25,000 in damages.
The suit alleges negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The incident caused the boy to suffer broken blood vessels in his eyes, crying spells, fear of school and loss of appetite, the lawsuit says.
Messages seeking comment were left Friday with Ellis, who resigned his position. Messages also were left with Oliver and Barbara Ruga, a school district lawyer.
The AP is not identifying the parents or the boy because of his age.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.