Parents demand teachers supporting molester colleague get fired
posted at 1:50 pm on September 3, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Imagine you are a parent who receives a visit from the state police, informing you that a trusted teacher at the local school molested your child — and took pictures of it. After a painful investigation and trial, the teacher finally gets convicted, and you figure the community will rally around you to demand a stiff sentence for the man who violated the public trust. However, when you arrive at the courtroom, you see several other teachers sitting in support of the teacher, and arguing for the lightest possible sentence.
Welcome to the West Branch-Rose City (MI) school district, and the nightmare for the Janczewskis (via The Corner):
Erickson admitted to his misdeeds, and the couple attended his sentencing July 10.
That’s when they learned for the first time that numerous teachers in the school district wrote to the court to plead for a lenient sentence for their colleague. They were shocked to see several teachers – and school board member Mike Eagan – sitting across the courtroom with the sex offender’s family.
“Neal made a mistake,” teacher Sally Campbell wrote to the judge, according to the Ogemaw County Herald. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something in to the authorities which began this legal process.”
“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” wrote Amy Huber Eagan, a teacher and wife of board member Mike Eagan. “I am also hoping that he can stay remanded to the custody of the Ogemaw County Jail and not be sent to a prison facility.”
“Neal has pled (sic) guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” teacher Harriett Coe wrote, according to the Herald. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends. He has been candid and conveyed his action to his family, friends and co-workers.”
In all, 10 people, including seven WB-RC teachers, submitted letters of support for Erickson, most pleading for a reduced sentence. They included Campbell, Amy Eagan, Coe, Toni Erickson, Carol Rau, Marilyn Glover, Sandi Lee, Kathryn Weber, Kathleen Sheel and Kathleen Palmer, the Herald reports.
The judge was not impressed — not with the defendant, and not with his apologists, either:
Judge Michael Bumgartner told Erickson he was “appalled and ashamed that the community could rally around, in this case, you,” according to the Herald.
“What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher,” he said shortly before sentencing Erickson to 15-30 years in prison.
This set off local vigilantes, who went after … the Janczewskis:
Days after the sentencing, the family awoke to a fire in their garage that nearly spread to their house. Someone had also scrawled the letters “ITY-YWP” on the side of their home, presumably a crude acronym for “I told you, you will pay.”
The majority in the local community backed the Janczewskis, though, and demanded that the teachers who wrote letters supporting the molester be fired. The school board declined:
On Monday night the West Branch-Rose City school board voted not to fire a group of teachers who spoke out against the 15- to 30-year sentence a fellow teacher, Neal Erickson, received after molesting an eighth-grade boy.
“We believe the letters written by the teachers may be protected under First Amendment rights and that any disciplinary action will subject us to expensive, and potentially lengthy, lawsuits,” board President Jack Money read in a statementannouncing the decision.
The victim’s mother, Lori Janczewski, told Glenn Beck on radio Tuesday that she actually could have lived with the knowledge that the teachers were still, ostensibly, caring for and educating other children had it not been for the way they defended the convicted child molester.
“They put at the bottom of their letters that there was no harm done to our son, he’s a straight‑A student,” Janczewski said. “I can’t live with that,” she said. “They had no idea. And how dare they…”
The school board may not have been able to afford the First Amendment lawsuits that would have resulted from terminations, although if they were representing themselves as co-workers and opining on the health of children in Erickson’s reach — and especially his victim — I’m not sure the teachers would have had a case. There are other ways to deal with this school district, though, which would be to pass a reduction of funding for parents to vote with their feet by taking their children out of the district, either through private school, home schooling, or seeking transfers to another district. As a parent and grandparent, I wouldn’t hesitate to get my family out of a public-school system where leaders defend molesters over their victims.