Three secretaries and a band director in Rochester found some closure in bringing complaints and publicly testifying against a school board trustee whose social media post and television news appearances sparked a deluge of vile, threatening phone calls to Hart Middle School.
With the help of their union, the educators bravely shared their experiences in an unusual open forum to hold school board member Andrew Weaver accountable and to inspire others to stand up against mistreatment – even when the source is someone powerful, said MEA UniServ Director Deb Lotan.
“They saw it all the way through; they never backed down,” Lotan said. “They got to speak publicly about what they had to endure as a result of Andrew Weaver’s actions – and that is what they needed to happen so they could move on.”
A standing-room-only crowd at the board hearing offered encouraging words and extended applause after the four women spoke of trauma they experienced when threatening phone calls from across the country flooded the school for days in response to Weaver’s insinuations about a sixth-grade field trip.
Last November, music teacher Amy Rever-Oberle had taken 180 sixth graders and chaperones to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and have pre-arranged lunch at a pizza place in Greektown. As expected the group was relocated to overflow seating, but unbeknownst to Rever-Oberle that area was a bar and nightspot with some poles.
With the group’s food arriving, Rever-Oberle got everyone fed quickly and back on buses ahead of schedule. But a photo of a few students playing momentarily on a pole would later appear on social media – with faces partially obscured – and on national news, including numerous right-wing sites.
“Mr. Weaver’s post included the statement ‘where they tried out some pole dancing,’” Rever-Oberle testified at the hearing in June. “That was putting an adult interpretation on what the kids were doing… and that particular phrase was repeated over and over again in news stories that I saw all over the place – ‘school kids try out pole dancing’ – as though that had been the point or intent of the trip itself.”
Weaver never spoke to the teacher or administrators before appearing on local news and the national talk show “FOX & Friends” in January as he took a partial-term seat on the board. The school hired extra security in response to threats.
Rever-Oberle said her vilification and resulting damage to her reputation for a brief mishap at the end of an otherwise enriching field trip has given her and others pause about taking students on outings.
The middle school counseling secretary, Anne Maloney, was in her third day on the job and said she felt unsafe when she and others began fielding obscene phone calls including threats of imminent harm.
“I was threatened and talked at length with my husband about quitting my job just a few days after I started,” Maloney said. “I’m talking about something that happened months ago because our community must learn from this. I now get vulgar voicemails from parents who don’t like that their student was mistakenly marked absent in a class. Let that sink in.”
Principal’s secretary Linda Key testified that her daily pride in doing good work for 10 years has been replaced by discomfort and anxiety. “As a member of this community, board trustee, and adult who should know better, Mr. Weaver has an obligation to seek facts first before seeking the limelight and opportunities which support his mission to always look for the worst in everything in this district.”
After a four-hour hearing, the board voted to censure Weaver for posts and interviews “to further public speculation, hearsay, and factual inaccuracies,” ordering him to apologize and remove social media posts. Weaver has refused to comply.
Regardless, Lotan said, “these women stood up to him, and what got them through that hearing was the huge amount of support from everybody in the audience wearing green. It was a sea of green, and the board meted out the harshest sentence they could, so it wasn’t in vain.”