“Although fully aware that Neal did something illegal, I am very proud to have him as my friend.”
“… his dedication and leadership qualities gained him the respect of his administrators, staff, students and community.”
The above quotes are from letters that were written by teachers to a judge last June on behalf of a former colleague. The object of the teachers’ tributes, Neal Erickson, a middle school math teacher in West Branch, Michigan, was convicted of repeatedly raping one of his male students between 2006 and 2009, starting when the boy was 13. The teacher was so brazen about his acts that he posted videos and pictures of himself and the boy engaged in oral sex and worse on child porn websites. Much to the letter writers’ dismay, the rapist received a 15-30 year prison sentence in July.
But the story didn’t end there. Local school officials held a special board meeting on July 29th where parents expressed outrage at the sympathetic teachers. As EAG writer Victor Skinner wrote at the time,
… numerous people from the community approached the podium to urge the school board to fire seven teachers who wrote the court in support of Erickson.
They also called for the resignation of board member Michael Eagan, who sat with teachers and the Erickson family during the former teacher’s sentencing last month, the Ogemaw County Herald reports.
Many parents who spoke at the meeting threatened to remove their children from the district if teachers who supported Erickson are not fired, which could result in significant loss of per-pupil state funding.
The ongoing sexual assault was bad enough for the victim’s parents, but it was compounded by the teachers disgusting display of sympathy for a convicted rapist. Judge Michael Bumgartner, who sentenced Erickson, agreed saying that he was “appalled and ashamed” at the support for Erickson and told him, “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher.” The heartbroken father said not only was his son’s innocence taken from him, but the boy became hostile and withdrawn in his teens; sadly the parents blame themselves for his emotional problems. To get a true feeling of what their family has gone through, I urge you to watch this brief video.
The Janczewskis then asked that those teachers who supported Erickson be fired as well as urging Michael Eagen to resign his school board post. However, not everyone supported their plea.
Police believe someone set the Janczewskis’ garage on fire July 20, and nearly set their home ablaze.
On the side of his house the perpetrator spray-painted “YWP-ITY,” presumably a crude acronym for “You will pay, I told you.” State police are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
“We don’t deserve this,” John Janczewski told the Herald. “We’re not a bad family. We’ve done nothing but stand up for our son, the victim. They could have killed my whole family. Whoever’s done this has no remorse. They have no soul.”
And talking about no soul….
You may be wondering where the teachers union has been throughout all this. Well not surprisingly, they are supporting the rapist. According to Skinner,
On March 26, 2013 WB-RC officials offered a $10,000 buyout for any qualifying teacher who left the school district that year, an incentive superintendent Dan Cwayna said the district had used in the past to encourage needed staff reductions.
While it’s not clear when Erickson’s employment was terminated, the union’s action suggests he was still on the payroll when the buyout was offered and accepted it.
The school district declined to pay him the money, prompting the union’s action.
“You had to qualify for the buyout, depending on your years in the district,” Cwayna said. “We’ve done it in the past. It was a little different this last year in that we offered the buyout in two $5,000 payments.
“When the first payment was sent out … and the union discovered we did not make the payment to Mr. Erickson, they filed a grievance on his behalf.”
Cwayna said he was the one who decided not to authorize the special severance for the child molester, but declined to elaborate on why, though the reason seems pretty obvious.
“That was something I as superintendent, with some consultation with the president of the board,” decided, Cwayna said. “That was a decision the superintendent makes and at this point … I prefer not to get into the reasons.”
MEA UniServ Director Ron Parkinson acknowledged that the union is taking the case to arbitration on behalf of Erickson, but declined to discuss the case further.
To summarize this tragic story, here is how things stand now:
- Erickson is doing 15 to 30 for his crime.
- The seven teachers with broken moral compasses still have their jobs.
- About 90 or so parents have pulled their kids from the 2,000 student district.
- The Michigan Education Association, clueless as to when to pick and choose its battles, is still demanding that the convicted rapist be paid his $10,000 “buyout.”
- National union leaders Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel, who of late have been flitting around the country weighing in on all matters educational in an effort to reinvigorate their rank-and-file, have been mum on the Michigan tragedy.
- The Janczewski’s son is now 21 and graduating with honors from Western Michigan University. He is due home for Christmas and the family is hoping to heal the wounds which have devastated them for the last seven years.
As the old saying goes, “He who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.” During this holiday season, it’s the Janczewskis who merit our prayers and support. The rapist, the teachers who stand by him and the union that is trying to finagle funds for him deserve the scorn of good people everywhere.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.