I am Ronald James Mays of Sumpter Township, a former teacher in Van Buren Public Schools for ten years and subbed for three years.
Many things have been stirred by the M-Step investigation into five teachers, one I have known most my life and know he is an honorable person that would never cheat.
People are speaking up about their abuse in the Van Buren District by the Superintendent Mike Van Tassel. Only these people are being charged with wild accusations and rumors. Well I would like to tell a true story about my life as a teacher and what happened in Belleville High School in the Van Buren Public Schools district.
It was the 2009-2010 school year. The administration came up with a rule that the students had to wear their IDs around their neck or they were to be written up. I remember the staff meeting while the administration told us about this rule and many were leery. Many figured to go by the unwritten rule at the high school where you don’t write up students and make work for the administration, even if it means overlooking a rule. The administration adamantly said if we wanted the rule to work we would have to write the students up and they would back us up. The administration did an assembly on the importance of wearing your ID and that the student would be written up if not wearing them. The rule was put in the student planner given to every student. The rule was also printed on the back of each student’s ID.
My colleagues were smart and stuck with the unwritten rule. I blindly believed them and wrote a lot of students up. The students were allowed three times of forgetting their ID. I had records on how many times a student forgot their ID but the records were lost when the old school building was destroyed. I remember one student forgot his ID 23 times. That means I wrote him up 20 times and I would see him in the hallway with a pass on his shirt that said he forgot his ID. Nothing was being done.
I was known by the students to follow school policy so I continued to write students up knowing I was breaking the unwritten rule. Mike Van Tassel became an assistant principal in 2010. I thought here is a guy that will follow school policy. Not much was done. He soon became head principal of the high school. This is where I believe I may have become the first victim of the Van Tassel bullying.
I was called into his office and immediately told I was writing too many students up. It was making me look like I lost control of my class. I explained that the write ups were for school ID policy which fell into the realm of administration. He explained he didn’t care what they were for. That the number of write ups and my failure rate made me look like I’d lost control of my classes.
I had control of my classes and students knew I followed school policy. As far as the failure rate I told him to match that with any other ninth grade teacher or my past which never came into question. I had taught ninth grade for nine years before.
The district practiced social promotion. A student could literally not do any homework in middle school and would be passed to the next grade for social promotion if the parents requested so. That stopped in the ninth grade. Teachers begged students to work but didn’t get through to them and they would fail and repeat the class. Not much was said about this after I made this point.
He then continued to say I used to be in the top three teachers in handling students in the school and asked what has happened now. He suggested I changed maybe because my mother had passed. This was a ludicrous accusation. I moved on like my mother who worked in the district for 23 years would have wanted me to.
I told him I was just following school policy and wanted the rule to work. He replied that I was being screwed by my colleagues for not following the rule and I looked bad by writing so many students up. I tried to ask him why didn’t administration go to the students following their schedules and find out how they made it to my hour without wearing an ID. But my time to talk was over.
Van Tassel’s new tactic was to explain what an individual evaluation plan (IEP) was and it was a step before getting fired. He told me that I’m on my way to an IEP. I would try to talk but I wasn’t allowed to. I just was reminded what an IEP was and I was going to be put on one. I asked him did he want me to stop following the school policy? That is what I was hearing and was being threatened with my job, my livelihood, my dream for following school policy. He laughed and said no, I was to follow school policy, but stop writing so many pink slips. I was confused, berated, and sick to my stomach. I remember walking out stating to him that I felt I was being set up for something bad. A colleague was standing outside to talk to Van Tassel and looked away knowing he wanted no part of Mike.
Later that same colleague came up and asked what happened. I told him. He replied it looked like I just walked out of a fight that I was beaten badly at.
I had two choices leaving that meeting. One, I could go back to the unwritten rule of not writing up students and stop following the rule that I wanted to work. The rule the administration promised to have our back on. By doing this I would lose respect of my students that knew I was a teacher that followed the rules and all of sudden stopped following a school policy. Perhaps lose some discipline I had established in my classroom. The students and I didn’t argue or have confrontation about the rule. They knew I followed it and accepted the consequences, which basically was nothing.
Or two, I could continue teaching the same way I was and continue following school policy keeping control of my classroom. I chose number two. I went back to doing it the way I have all year. Remind the student to put his ID on while I was out in the hallway before class. Told students I was checking for IDs after taking attendance. Then I would announce to the class I am checking for IDs. I did this all year. Bad mistake.
I would try to avoid Mike Van Tassel when I saw him but when we got together I would be constantly reminded about an IEP and me losing my job. My health started to decline with my chest becoming very tight and I started to throw up a lot. I’m sure if you check my attendance you would see I would start missing days from being sick and I started to have ideas before going to work of running my truck into a tree to break my leg because I feared having to hear about an IEP again. Many of my colleagues were my friends and several told me they heard Mike Van Tassel walk out of the office saying Ron Mays needs to go. I’m positive he knew I would hear about it and my eye started twitching from stress. I made it through the school year with my health in decline. I had heard he was putting my write ups into the computer as worst offenses to make me look bad for an IEP. I saved copies of my write ups for that year just in case.
Beginning the 2010-2011 school year I came in the first day excited about a new school year and begin teaching again. I would have to follow the unwritten rule and keep my head low. On the first day of school I had 13 people come up to me and tell me to watch my back. Mike Van Tassel was heard saying he had a list of teachers he wanted gone and I was on top of the list. A bullseye was on my back. I went to my union president and told her about my first day and she set up a meeting with Mike. He laughed at the idea of a list and I had a bullseye on my back. But why would 13 of my colleagues and friends lie to me about this information? I didn’t believe him and he knew I would hear about it. My health started to decline again.
The administration came up with a four-point system to follow before sending a student to the office on a write up unless it was gross disrespect. 1. Talk to the student. 2. Talk to the parent. 3. Send to the counselor. 4. Write student up and send to office. Ok, so we have a system but I wanted to make sure I didn’t make it to step four or I would be heading towards an IEP. I was helpless, really.
Three weeks into the school year I had a student that was sagging every day and it was against the school dress code. I used step one every day. I went on to step two a few times. I even went to step three a couple of times. I finally made a deal with the student, trying to save my job. I sent him to the office on a pass and told him to ask if he was sagging and if he was could they call me in my room. I told him if they called me I was contacting mom and his coach again. If they said he wasn’t sagging I wouldn’t say another word to him for the rest of the semester. The phone quickly rang and they said he was sagging in the office. They asked me if I wanted them to send him to in-school suspension like they have been with other students that have been sagging. For fear of my job I said no, send him back, he needs to learn what is going on in class and I’ll contact mom and coach.
When he returned, I told him they said he was sagging and the student said, I know. So, I informed him I contacted mom and coach. I will try to keep this clean for the paper, but the student replied why don’t I get off his f’ing private part. I had no choice but to write him up after this.
The next day I ran into assistant principal Abdul Madyun who got the write up. He promised me he would never let a student talk to one of his teachers this way. This kind of gross disrespect will not be tolerated. He told me if the student made it to my fourth hour to send him down to the office. I had split lunch fourth hour, which means I start class, have lunch, finish class. He made it to fourth hour and I sent him down.
He was back in my class in about seven minutes. The time it takes to walk from my room to the office and back. I asked him if he talked to the principal. He said yes. I asked if they said anything to him and he said no. Several of my students said they couldn’t believe he got away with talking to a teacher that way. At lunch time I went to find Principal Madyun and asked him what happened. He told me that the way it was explained to him if I wouldn’t have asked this student to follow the school dress policy everyday, he would have never acted this way. I was getting blamed for this student’s actions.
I told principal Madyun that I followed the four-point plan; how can this happen? Again, he told me it was my fault the student reacted the way he did. I knew the only person that could explain this to Abdul was the head principal Mike Van Tassel. I went into the teacher’s lounge to find answers of how this student could get away with this with no consequences. I walked in and said hello to everybody, which everybody acknowledged me except Van Tassel. He was finishing up his lunch so I politely said I was sorry for interrupting lunch but how can a student say this to a teacher and nothing happen. Van Tassel ignored me without looking at me just like when I said hello. I politely asked again and he looked at me and said I’m not going to talk about this with you. I was upset. I turned around and yelled “unbelievable” twice. That’s it, nothing more or nothing less. I had fifth-hour prep and Mike Van Tassel and Dennis Connely, a principal advisor, came to my class to inform me I was getting suspended and was to be escorted off the premises like I was a criminal. I found out that a student could tell me anything but saying “unbelievable” would get me suspended. I’ve seen this policy used by administrators in the past to get people to resign by leaving them alone in the classroom and not covering their back when a student does something wrong.
My return interview with Mike was one-sided all the way. I would like to state that this was my first discipline action in ten years teaching and three years subbing. I had positive administration reviews as a teacher and never a negative thing posted in my folder. Mike controlled the meeting not really allowing me or my union representative to talk. Van Tassel changed my write up from the profanity to writing the student up for sagging. Which was not true. They had a place where I signed if I disagreed with what was said I could write it there. But this is a man that was after my job. I feared correcting the information and did not. I did ask my union representative to try getting that changed. But things were about to get worse for me.
Five weeks into the school year I had a student towards the end of class come up to me and start calling me a f’ing a-hole over and over again because she thought I lost her work. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I was helpless in the classroom and wondered how I would be blamed for this. My chest started to hurt and my left arm went numb. I started getting dizzy. I gave the girl a pass to leave my class but she left and came back to abuse me some more. Class was over. I don’t know what happened my next hour but I remember leaving before it ended and going to the office because I thought this was it. This is where I was going to have a heart attack and die. I was dizzy fading in and out. I remember the fireman asking me what happened and I replied I had bad kids. The last thing I remember before getting to the hospital was the fireman saying something to Mike. He smiled and said yes I had some bad kids. Another policy used to get teachers to resign. Give them troubled students. I was never the same after that day. My leg or arm would shake uncontrollably for about three years. I was diagnosed by my therapist with PTSD with severe anxiety and panic disorder with major depression.
2011-2012 school year I was out with mental sickness. Mike VanTassel is the superintendent. The department of Human Resources called and said I needed a note for my absence and a note saying I would be out indefinitely would be good. She told me there is a part of the contract where I had to write a letter to the administration building but a note would be fine. I got the note that said I would be out indefinitely for anxiety or depression I can’t remember. A few weeks later I got a letter from Mike Van Tassel saying he accepted my resignation. My union tried to fight it saying past practice of bringing a doctor’s note had set a precedent. But they came up unsuccessful. This is after I would be good with a doctor’s note. I’m sure the ADA would have something to say about that.
I was about to make close to $80,000 with extra for coaching. But through deception he got my resignation. Today I still suffer from PTSD and I’m an agoraphobic. I can rarely leave the house without having an anxiety attack. I have them pretty much every day. I read a normal attack will last 20-30 minutes, mine last hours if not the whole day. I stopped shaking after three years, but not much else has changed. I see a therapist every week. Now I live off of disability instead of a teacher’s salary.
I was bullied by this man till he broke me down to what I am today. A man who lives in fear. My therapist said I would never be in this position if it wasn’t for the bullying by this man after following a school policy. I’ve heard many others have been broke down from stress also. I’m writing this hoping people realize what Mike Van Tassel is capable of. He has hurt a lot of people.
Ronald James Mays