Teacher Videotapes And Teases Autistic Child Stuck In Chair

The video of a Michigan teacher and principal allegedly teasing an autistic fifth grade student with his head stuck through the open back of a chair for at least ten minutes has gone viral, reigniting a controversy in central Michigan, reported WNEM-TV. The teacher at the Oaktree Elementary school in Goodrich, Mich. supposedly took the video on her cell phone.

Principal Michael Ellis resigned after the event originally came to light last year. The teacher, Nicole McVey, remains on paid administrative leave pending a tenure hearing. The video set off outrage, according to the Detroit Free Press, but also split the community. Many parents support McVey.

The incident occurred last November when the unnamed child, who reportedly has Asperger syndrome, a milder form of autism, put his head, arms, and shoulders through the chair back and then couldn't get himself out.

"How did you get in that situation?" the teacher asked him as the boy wiped tears from his eyes, according to the Free Press report. She said that getting him out would require help from the maintenance department and that they were waiting for someone to come. "If you wouldn't have put your head in there to begin with, we wouldn't be in this situation," she allegedly said.

Ellis then allegedly said, "It's really not an emergency in their [the maintenance department's] book." A lawyer for the boy's parents said that he believed the child was trapped for between 10 and 15 minutes.

At one point, according to WNEM, the teacher is heard saying, "Do you want to get tasered?" The boy's mother, speaking to the Free Press, said that McVey sometimes uses the term as a joke, but that "this was no time to be joking around."

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, children with Asperger "are often awkward and poorly coordinated." Two "core features" are "social and communication deficits" and "fixated interests and repetitive behaviors."

When asked to comment on the situation, School Superintendent Scott Bogner sent the following statement to WNEM:

Under Michigan's Tenure Law that teacher has a right to a private hearing of any charges against her. The District is obligated to respect that right and will not discuss specifics of this case."

According to the WNEM report, the "community has rallied behind the teacher without seeing this video." At a recent school board meeting, some parents continued their public support.

In interviews with the station, one parent, Erin Raether, called the teacher "very compassionate." Another, Jennifer Senish, said, "She loves the children. She is a very good teacher. She would never jeopardize or bully anyone." A third parent, Heather Zarembski, said, "And there was no incident whatsoever where that teacher bullied that student. Yes, she had a sense of humor and she tried to make light of the situation."

After the video was released, some parents still supported the teacher in separate interviews with WNEM, saying that McVey wasn't trying to be mean. Another parent who was shown the video said that perhaps the teacher was trying to get the student to think about his actions first, but wondered "if [the teacher] was sensitive to maybe the physical and other problems that maybe the boy has and she should have been more sensitive to that."

The parents are considering a lawsuit but will wait to see the results of the tenure hearing.

As seen in a letter from the school district in the WNEM video, its motto is "A tradition of pride and educational excellence."

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