Detroit News: A school board member and six teachers who have ostracized in Rose City for supporting a former middle school teacher convicted of having sex with an eighth-grader will keep their posts despite angry calls for their terminations.
Residents in this small northern Michigan farming community were unsuccessful in their bid have the board member and teachers removed during a school board meeting on Monday. The complaints involved West Branch-Rose City Area School District school board member Mike Eagan and six teachers who supported former middle school teacher Neal Erickson during his trial.
“The teachers are going to remain with the district,” Superintendent Dan Cwayna said Tuesday. “The board discussed this at length, weighed heavily the impact on the community and with their First Amendment rights.”
The case has polarized the community. Longtime friends of the educators had stopped talking to them. A judge blasted the teachers who wrote letters of support for Erickson, 38, that asked for leniency in his sentencing. Erickson was sentenced last month to 15 to 30 years.
None of the teachers has condoned what Erickson did. Instead, their letters focused on his 17 years of teaching, describing his popularity with students and teachers, how hard he worked and how often he volunteered for school functions. The teachers have declined to discuss their letters and the resulting furor.
Eagan also sat in court with Erickson’s family when the former teacher was sentenced. “I would still support the family. That’s who I am,” he told The News earlier this month.
Some residents have said they will pull their children from the district if the teachers weren’t fired. But the board wasn’t sure the letter-writing is grounds for dismissal. Board president Jack Money had said either option — losing students or fighting a legal battle — would financially cripple the cash-strapped school district.
Some residents in the town of 650 about 70 miles north of Saginaw also wondered whether the outsized reaction by the conservative community is fueled by the fact the student Erickson had sex with is male.
The controversy began with a lewd 7-year-old photo of John and Lori Janczewski’s son, taken when he was 14, that was anonymously emailed to the school board and superintendent.
The Michigan State Police contacted the son, now 21 and a student at Western Michigan University, and learned he had sent the photo to his eighth-grade teacher in 2006.
The son said he and Erickson had a relationship that summer that involved eight to 10 sexual encounters at the teacher’s home.
Erickson, who taught science and computers to seventh- and eighth-graders at Rose City Middle School, pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal sexual conduct as result.
The victim’s parents, the Janczewskis, also were targeted by an arsonist who set their garage on fire last month. No one has been arrested for the fire as of Tuesday.
Nonetheless, the couple led the charge to remove the school board member and six teachers from their positions.
“This is no longer about our son. It’s about all our children,” Lori Janczewski told The News earlier this month. “It’s embarrassing to us, embarrassing to the community, embarrassing to our children.”
The teachers do have a right to voice their personal opinion. Yet I would not want my child in a classroom with a teacher that supports a convicted child molester. Reason ∞ to home school.