2014-02-27 / Front Page

Goodrich under fire for special education issues

By Paula Kay Schmidt
810-452-2647 • pbarbee@mihomepaper.com

GOODRICH — The Goodrich Board of Education met Feb. 24 to discuss tenure charges against a fifth grade teacher who video recorded a special education student in her mainstream fifth grade class who became stuck in his seat back in November.

Fifth grade teacher Nicole McVey video recorded an incident with a child, identified as being autistic, in her regular classroom after he got his head stuck in the back of his seat while apparently acting out in class.

Supporters of McVey laud her performance as a general education teacher and said she would never intend ill toward a student.

However, local television stations obtained the video from the child's parents and began playing the footage, causing outrage among many parents and raising questions about how well trained Goodrich teachers are when it comes to dealing with special needs students.

The board will bring tenure charges against McVey — part of the process which may lead to her eventual termination. The incident has already resulted in the resignation of building Principal Mike Ellis.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Cindy Rivett, who identified herself as a union representative for Goodrich teachers, said she had sat in on all the interviews with McVey.

“I am formally requesting her reinstatement as it appears she is being disciplined here for following the directions of her direct supervisor,” she said.

Goodrich parent Kevin Smith called for action on the part of the board.

Smith stated he had a special education child himself and they had been navigating the district for 13 years. Special Education students under law are supposed to be given an Individual Education Plan (IEP) he explained.

“The responsibility falls on adults for good IEP’s,” Smith said. “Parents need to learn their IEP rights.”

He further explained the Michigan legislature has written specific provisions for special education training and taxpayer money is funneled by the Department of Education to the Michigan Alliance for Families (www.michiganalliancefor families.org), an organization which is mandated to provide parent training.

However the State Department of Education said it only provides resources to special education programs in Michigan schools/districts, but no handson, face-to-face training. Goodrich faced more than 50 violations in the past several years and Smith said they will now face other violations.

Other parents spoke on behalf of McVey, and responded to a point in the video where she asks the student, “Do you want to be tasered.” They explained that in the context of that class, ‘taser’ is a research based action similar to being poked in the ribs on both sides, like being tickled and making a buzzing sound; with the purpose to distract the child from inappropriate behavior.

Andy Reather, another parent also asked the board to reconsider McVey’s reinstatement. “You couldn’t ask for more with a teacher,” he said.

He said she is patient and her rapport with students was impeccable. He and another parent both said they didn’t speak on her behalf in the January meeting because they had confidence the board would put her back in the classroom.

He also indicated the video was recorded as a “teaching moment” because students on the autism spectrum often respond to visuals and that McVey often uses research based techniques.

The video was sent by McVey to Ellis, who then reportedly circulated it to his staff at Oaktree. It was after this that the Ellis’ handling of the matter was questioned and he resigned.

Parent Leanne Rudiger said of McVey, “She creates a responsible loving environment in her classroom. She always has the best of intentions. You must not allow a few seconds of videotape dictate her dismissal ... this is a few misconstrued seconds in years of countless seconds of great teaching.”

Holly Francis, who has a son in McVey’s class stated she felt the controversy was “tearing the community apart.”

She added, “I respectfully disagree with your decision ... to remove a phenomenal teacher. Our teachers are walking on pins and needles out of fear of losing their jobs. They are insecure about implementing creative processes out of fear their approach will be misinterpreted. This fear is trickling into our kids and homes.”

Requests for information from the school board were not returned by press time. Previously, at the January meeting, Superintendent Scott Bogner said McVey had 20 days to appeal to the Tenure Board after which a hearing would be held.

In addition to the teaching issue, parent Jeff Zmich said they had concerns with the schools Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. He said his daughter, 12, is in a wheelchair and there have been issues with doors at the middle school not opening automatically, as well as illegible or missing parking spaces.

Furthermore, he said he had to wheel her through 2 feet of snow to attend a recent band concert at the high school. He said he hoped the board would offer their support in rectifying these issues as well as supporting the IEP program.

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