A teachers union in Ogemaw County wants $10,000 paid to a teacher who pleaded guilty to molesting an eighth-grade student.
The union in the West Branch Rose City Area Schools district filed a grievance on behalf of Neal Erickson, who was sentenced in July to 15-30 years in prison, claiming he was unjustly denied a $10,000 severance package offered to all teachers, according to the school district.
The West Branch-Rose City Education Association, an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association, is fighting on Erickson's behalf because it says the $10,000 was offered to all teachers who severed employment with the district, according to the superintendent. The district is located in West Branch, about 50 miles north of Bay City.
Superintendent Dan Cwayna said the school board denied the payment and the district and union have gone through the grievance process outlined in the union contract. Cwayna said it is now up to the union to seek binding arbitration if it wants to pursue the matter.
Erickson was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and pleaded guilty May 8, the same day his resignation was effective. He was sentenced July 10, according to a story in the Ogema County Herald.
Cwayna said the $10,000 severance deal was offered March 26, to any teacher who left the district.
The grievance was filed Oct. 8, Cwayna said. Under the severance agreement, Erickson qualified for the deal, the superintendent said, adding that he and the school board did not think Erickson was "entitled to the money."
Erickson's case made national news earlier this year when six teachers in the district wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency during sentencing. A school board member sat with Erickson's family during his sentencing.
"The ongoing friendship that the pair had beyond the years of reported sexual activity between them and the fact that the victim did not file the complaint is strong indication that the victim was consenting," one teacher wrote.
The family later told various media outlets and posted on social media websites that they were targets of abuse after defending their son.
This isn't the first time the MEA has defended teachers who have been involved with significant crimes. In one extreme case, the MEA took up the case of an Ann Arbor gym teacher who was accused by six girls of having made sexual advances toward them. Five of the six said he exposed himself to them. The MEA challenged his firing.
In 1984, while the case was still pending, the teacher got into an argument with his wife, punched her in the face, chased her into the front yard and killed her with an ax, according to reports.
(Editor's note: Additional information has been added to the story since its original posting. Also, according to the last published union contract Dan Ahearne was listed as president of the West Branch-Rose City Education Association. He responded after publication to say he no longer is president.)