ROSE CITY, Mich. – When Rose City middle school teacher Neal Erickson pleaded guilty to molesting one of his students a while back, most observers expected an open-and-shut case with the school community rallying around the teenage victim.

Neil EricksonAnd in some ways it was. Erickson was sentenced to 15-30 years in prison for carrying on a sexual relationship with a boy in his young teens between 2006 and 2009. That should have been the end of the horrific tale.

But seven teachers kept the controversy alive by rallying behind the rapist, going so far as to write letters to the sentencing judge, seeking leniency on his behalf. The letters were posted on a local blog, WBRC Teachers.

Perhaps the most disgusting letter was written by Erickson’s wife, Toni Erickson, a 15-year educator currently teaching at Ogemaw Heights High School. While her pleas on behalf of her husband may not be surprising, her suggestion that the victim was unaffected by the abuse is more than a little disturbing, particularly coming from a teacher.

“As for punishment, because I know that is something the community expects, hasn’t he been punished enough? He is losing a job he has held for 17 years and losing all future career potential as a teacher. …

“I have seen many delightful students who have been damaged by horrible events in their lives. While I acknowledge that Neal’s conduct with [the victim] was wrong, I do not believe he was damaged by Neal’s actions and I base my opinion on my personal interaction with [the victim], both before and after Neal’s actions. However [my daughter] very likely could be. Please don’t punish her by his absence in her life.”

So the real victim in the case is the rapist’s daughter, not the young student who was assaulted? This lady needs her head examined, and perhaps her teaching license permanently revoked.

There were other troublesome letters, as well.

Rose City Middle School English teacher Sally Campbell wrote to the court, “Please take into consideration his pleading guilty so as not to put this student through any more than what has already occurred.”

How charitable of the rapist to not force his victim to testify. Perhaps he deserves the keys to the city for that one.

“Although Neal has pleaded guilty to a single charge of criminal sexual conduct, evidence of this being a one-time incident reaffirms the fact that he is not a sexual predator,” wrote 4th grade teacher Marilyn Glover.

The abuse occurred over a 3-year period, according to various news reports. Without getting into the physics of it all, it’s highly unlikely it was a “one-time incident.”

‘Extremely poor decisions’

Rose City Middle School social studies teacher Kathleen Scheel believes the loss of his teaching certificate and parole should be sufficient punishment for Erickson.

“I am aware that he made some extremely poor decisions in carrying on an inappropriate relationship with a past student of his. I believe the loss of his teaching certificate and the parole restrictions that will limit his freedoms for the rest of his life are steep enough of punishments that a long incarceration term is not warranted on top of that.

“Our community’s children are not at risk of Neal’s presence – he is not a predator. Rather he found a strong emotional tie to one particular individual who was too young to be experiencing that type of relationship,” Scheel wrote.

Scheel added that out of the 1,000-plus students Erickson has taught, “not a single one filed a complaint against him.”

“He has been, and will be, greatly missed in the educational arena. This, in and of itself, has been a huge punishment to Neal,” wrote Ogemaw Heights social studies teacher Amy Huber Eagan, whose husband, Mike Eagan, is on the school board.

Many residents have called for Mike Eagan’s resignation or recall because he sat with Erickson’s family at the sentencing.

“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” Amy Huber Eagan wrote. She added she hopes he will stay in the county jail instead of being sent to a prison facility.

Retired band teacher Harriett Coe wrote in her letter defending Erickson, “I have faith that the right course of action will be considered by the justice system.”

Rest assured, Ms. Coe, it was.

Music teacher Carol Rau defended Erickson, and added, “May the court discern with wisdom as it seeks to know the truth and judge with equity.”

Rest assured, Ms. Rau, it did.

The teachers’ shocking defense of the admitted rapist was heartbreaking to the victim’s family.

“ … When (the letters of support from teachers) came out in court we were angry and sick to our stomachs,” the victim’s father, John Janczewski, told EAGnews.

“We can’t believe (educators) who took an oath to protect and be there for the child would turn a blind eye,” he said. “We promised ourselves we’re not going to stop until the (teachers who supported Erickson) are fired and this board member is recalled.”

The judge echoed that sentiment.

Upon receiving the teachers’ letters, Judge Michael Bumgartner said, “I’m appalled and ashamed that the community would rally around, in this case, you,” referring to Erickson. “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher.”

The teachers’ actions in this case have shaken the West Branch-Rose City community to its core.

We at EAGnews stand with the family and community seeking justice for not only the victim, but for all students whom enter the classrooms of West Branch Rose City Area Schools.

At its upcoming August 19th meeting, the school board will be deciding whether or not to fire these teachers. We anticipate a large crowd will turn out to voice their opinion and we will be there to cover it.

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