February 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Mich. mom of fifth-grader stuck in chair says people are 'blaming the victim'

Teacher taunts, videotapes student stuck in chair
Teacher taunts, videotapes student stuck in chair: A Genesee County elementary school principal has resigned and a fifth-grade teacher is under investigation after the pair were allegedly captured on cellphone video taunting a 10-year-old autistic student whose head was stuck in a chair. From The De

The mother of a 10-year-old autistic student who was taunted and recorded by a teacher at a Genesee County elementary school after his head became stuck in a chair expressed outrage over the act because “my son did nothing wrong.”

In a letter to her lawyer, Patrick Greenfelder, the mother expressed shock at seeing the video and the conduct of the school’s staff.

“I am almost at a loss for words to be honest,” wrote the mother. “My son did nothing wrong but yet this seems to be another case of blaming the victim.

“Watching the video of my son trapped in the chair is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I felt incredibly helpless watching my son sobbing. He was pleading for help and they just continued to watch him and almost taunt him with their lack of compassion.”

Nicole McVey, a fifth-grade teacher, is accused of using her cellphone to record her student, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, struggling to remove his head from an opening in the back of the chair during an inside recess at Oaktree Elementary School in Goodrich, a few miles north of Ortonville.

According to Greenfelder of Chesaning, McVey can be heard on the video asking the student, “How did you get into that situation?” before asking, “Do you want to get Tasered?”

When the teacher, who is fighting a move by the school board to fire her over the incident, allegedly tells the boy a maintenance crew is on the way to help, Greenfelder said Principal Michael Ellis can be heard saying, “It’s not really an emergency in their book.”

The elementary school’s principal has resigned and McVey is on paid administrative leave and her actions are being investigated after the pair were allegedly captured on cellphone video taunting the child.

The school board voted 5-1 at its Jan. 13 meeting to fire her and she will have a hearing after the school district completes its probe.

At the meeting, several of McVey’s students, parents and fellow teachers expressed their support, according to minutes of the meeting. Some pointed out there’s a waiting list to get into McVey’s class.

Attempts by The Detroit News to reach McVey and Ellis on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Colleen Allen, president and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan said she didn’t see the video but has followed reports on the incident.

“This is incredibly disturbing to us,” she said. “A teacher and principal who are supposed to be role models of understanding disabilities — this is abuse and we have a problem with that.”

The 53-second video was taken in November but only recently released by Greenfelder.

Greenfelder said McVey also played the video at least three times for her class on a large-screen television.

“I think the video speaks for itself,” Greenfelder said. “The lack of compassion you see is shocking. This poor child was stuck in the chair for 15 minutes, and you can see the teacher’s not doing anything to comfort him.”

Greenfelder said the boy broke blood vessels in his eyes from struggling so hard to extricate himself from the chair.

“There’s nothing funny about this whatsoever,” Greenfelder said. “And the principal’s right there, and they’re yukking it up. Taking the video is one thing — but then sending it to all your buddies for laughs, and then showing it to the class on the big screen so they can all laugh and humiliate this poor kid is disgusting. This child has enough issues to deal with.”

In the mother’s letter she explained her son was having a rough morning and was extremely anxious over his math work. She added that in his mind, he needed to escape or perhaps move the focus away from that stressful math work and tried squirming through his chair, as he can often be a little dramatic when he's trying to get out of doing an unpleasant task.

“It became quickly obvious that he was unable to free himself,” the mother wrote.

“Instead of helping (the child’s name is redacted) or consoling him, his teacher made the decision to use a fellow staff member’s phone to record a video of (the child’s name is redacted) stuck in the chair..”

The video wound up in the hands of a school staff member whose job is to report bullying, Greenfelder said. The superintendent called the parents into his office and showed them the video.

Greenfelder said Goodrich school board Superintendent Scott Bogner offered the teacher and the principal the choice to either resign or be fired.

“The principal chose to resign, but the teacher chose to fight it through the tenure process,” he said.

Bogner said in a written statement school officials are investigating.

Greenfelder said he was hired by the family after school board members were criticized by community members for voting to fire McVey. Greenfelder said as of Wednesday, there was no decision made on whether to sue.

Detroit News Staff Writer Ursula Watson contributed.

A cellphone video captured a student with Asperger's syndrome struggling to remove his head from a chair opening. / YouTube