When MEA member Amy Rever-Oberle experienced a mishap on a field trip with 150 sixth-grade band students and 30 adult chaperones from Rochester Community Schools, she handled it, got everyone back to school early, and let administration know what happened.
Over the next few days, the principal responded to a few parent questions, and life moved on. But the incident reemerged two months later when a newly elected school board member raised a question about it on social media and then appeared on a nationally televised talk show to demand answers.
The one place where the soon-to-be-seated school board trustee, Andrew Weaver, did not seek to learn details of the incident was at the school or from the teacher.
“He went on ‘Fox and Friends,’ and one of his quotes in the beginning of the interview was, ‘How did we get here?’” Rever-Oberle said. “And it makes me furious because he never asked me. He never asked my principal. He took a story and just ran with the absolute media circus it created.”
Early last November, Rever-Oberle took her sixth-grade band students to watch a Detroit Symphony Orchestra performance and eat lunch in the city’s Greektown neighborhood. It marked the return of field trips for the first time since the start of COVID three years ago, and students were excited.
In the past Rever-Oberle had taken students to PizzaPapalis for lunch, but the restaurant’s Greektown location permanently closed amid the pandemic, so she took recommendations from fellow band directors and settled on Niki’s Pizza, advertised as a great place for birthday parties, wedding receptions, and field trips.
Rever-Oberle scheduled the visit, knowing her large party arriving at lunch rush would be seated in an overflow area upstairs. Little did she know until arrival, however, that area was a bar and nightspot, closed during the day, which contained some metal poles.
The first pizzas were arriving from the kitchen. “Obviously this was not the ideal location, but we made the best of it,” Rever-Oberle said. “Not all of our food was ready – they had prearranged to bring it out in shifts – so we got the kids in and situated.
“Some parents are giving me that look of What’s going on? I’m like, ‘This is clearly not my plan, but we’ve got to feed the kids.’ Everything was paid for, and we were on a time crunch with four buses, so we got them fed and out of there, and we arrived back at school half an hour sooner than planned.”
Meanwhile, Weaver was elected Nov. 8 to a partial two-year term on the school board after three years of protesting COVID masks and library books. On Jan. 5, a friend warned Rever-Oberle about Weaver’s Facebook post, which referenced the poles and Greektown policing information to imply the trip was unsafe.
Days later, Weaver’s Fox appearance spread stories across the globe saying a Rochester teacher took students to an adult entertainment venue, which the owner insists it is not. “He said just enough to make it fit the dark, scary – and false – narrative that teachers are evil, rather than seeking the truth,” Rever-Oberle said.
She and the district began receiving abusive phone calls and messages from all over the world. For days, office secretaries were forced to hear hateful callers spewing vile names and personal threats. Extra security was brought in to the middle school, and still Rever-Oberle felt unsafe.
Worried she would be fired, a group of her seventh-grade students organized themselves over an online video game and all came to school wearing their band shirts. “It was so sweet, I almost cried,” she said.
Since then the fallout has chilled her colleagues who now question if they’re willing to do field trips, which don’t always go as planned, she said. “People are afraid if they handle things as they come, and it doesn’t fit a certain idea of what should or shouldn’t be done, they will be pilloried for it.”
Rever-Oberle still worries what might happen at public appearances she makes. All of that is why now she’s telling her story and pursuing remedies with the help of her union: “I feel like we have to make a stand and say we’re not going to roll over and let people keep doing stuff like this.”
Supported by the local union, Rever-Oberle has filed a grievance and multiple formal complaints against Weaver and hasn’t ruled out further action, said Doug Hill, president of the Rochester Education Association.
Not only has Rever-Oberle suffered emotional harm and reputational damage from Weaver’s spurious characterization of the field trip on national television, but the building secretaries endured days of frightening threats and vitriol whenever they answered the phone, he said.
The secretaries unit has also filed a grievance and multiple complaints against Weaver, said Deb Lotan, MEA UniServ Director.
“We are going to continue to pursue all avenues we can to hold him to the high standard of customary and expected behavior for a district official, which is to abide by the regulations, rules, policies, and contractual agreements to which the district is obligated,” Hill said.
Meanwhile, more people in the community are asking what they can do to support their public schools and are stepping up to join groups and attend school board meetings – upset by the attack on a beloved and respected educator and middle school band director, he added.
“She’s a wonderful educator and advocate, an ally for students in all walks of life, and just a really good person. I guess you could say she’s a rock star—pun intended.”