Residents in a speck of a rural farm town in northern Michigan want to recall a school board member and fire several teachers who showed support for a local middle school teacher convicted of having sexual relations with an eighth-grade student.
The teacher, Neal Erickson, had been a science and computer-education teacher at Rose City Middle School. He was convicted of having sex with an eighth-grade student on multiple occasions, reports The Detroit News.
The criminal case against Erickson began when a seven-year-old photograph of a 14-year-old boy was sent anonymously to the school board and superintendent. Details about what exactly was in the image are scant, but police concluded that the boy had sent it to Erickson in 2006.
The male in the photo, who is now a 21-year-old student at Western Michigan University, told police that he and the pedophile teacher had a homosexual relationship in 2006. At the time, the student was an eighth grader.
There were about 10 encounters. They involved oral sex, reports WSMH FOX 66. They occurred at the teacher’s house.
Erickson pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced in July to 15 to 30 years in prison.
Prior to his sentencing, six current teachers and two retired ones penned letters to the presiding judge seeking leniency for their child-molesting colleague. The group — along with board member Michael Eagan — also sat with Erickson’s relatives during his sentencing hearing.
The letters painted a flattering picture of the convicted pedophile.
“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” wrote concerned teacher Amy Huber Eagan, according to Eagnews.org. Eagan, who is board member Michael Eagan’s wife, also asked the judge to send the child molester to the county lockup, not some dangerous real prison.
“Neal made a mistake,” wrote teacher Sally Campbell. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something to the authorities which began this legal process.”
“Neal has plead [sic] guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” teacher Harriett Coe swore. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends.”
The judge, Michael Baumgartner, told the audience he was disgusted by the support shown by Erickson’s colleagues.
“I’m appalled and ashamed that the community would rally around, in this case, you,” the judge said. “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher.”
Usually lackluster Rose City has been a pretty crazy scene since the sentencing hearing.
“This case has taken on a life of its own,” said Erickson’s attorney, Mike Juarez, according to The Detroit News.
“There is only one person that’s a victim and that’s my son,” said John Janczewski, the father of the boy who was molested. “What kind of message do we send to the community, to the parents and students, by them being there and supporting this?”
A high percentage of residents seems to agree.
“How someone can support a child molester?” representative local Sam Cottle asked an Eagnews reporter. “None of these people have written a letter of support for the mom, dad, or son. What does that tell you?”
At the same time, Erickson and his letter-writing colleagues have solid support.
Brandon Larkin, who graduated from a local high school in 2001, suggested that Erickson has been treated unfairly because he is a man who molested a boy. A woman who did the same basic thing to a male student would have more support and wouldn’t face the same sentence.
“If that’s not slanted justice bordering on bigotry, I’m not sure what is,” Larkin told The Detroit News.
Also, in July, a presumably pro-molesting arsonist burned down the garage belonging to the unidentified student’s parents, John and Lori Janczewski.
The arsonist also spray-painted “YWP-ITY” on the side of the Janczewski house, notes Eagnews. Police say the letters are likely an acronym for “You will pay, I told you.”
The unknown perpetrator has not been arrested.
The Janczewskis are among the most vocal residents pushing for the school board to remove the six current teachers and the school board member who showed support for Erickson.
At a recent board meeting, several parents promised to pull their kids from the school district unless the sackings begin post-haste. This threat is problematic for the district, which is hurting for money and gets state money on a per-student basis. At the same time, any fired teachers will likely sue. They will argue that their constitutionally protected rights to free speech have been violated.
Litigation would be expensive—at least $500,000, estimates Eagnews.
“That’s money we don’t have,” school board member Dick Bachelder warned.
Meanwhile, Egan won’t resign. The teachers who supported Erickson will learn their fates at an August 19 school board meeting.
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