Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 11, 2013

Angry parents charged with misdemeanors

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Prosecutors charged two students’ parents with crimes for allegedly causing a heated confrontation at Long Lake Elementary School.

Michael Miller, 34, and Amber Sargent, 29, are accused of disturbing the peace. They acknowledged becoming angry and cursing at school staffers as they picked up their daughters from the Traverse City Area Public Schools building on April 24, but they contended their confrontational behavior stemmed from legitimate grievances with the school’s administrators.

“We have a right as parents to get upset,” Sargent said.

TCAPS officials last month said at least one parent became “very agitated,” used profanity and acted in a threatening manner toward school employees after student dismissal, prompting the staffers to place the building in “secure mode,” a security measure similar to a lockdown which prevents unapproved access to the school’s interior from the outside.

A Grand Traverse County sheriff’s department report stated the confrontation began in the school’s lobby when Miller and Sargent received “a note about one of their children’s bad behavior in school.”

Witnesses said Sargent ripped up the note and began yelling and cursing at school officials in front of children and parents. Miller also began loudly cursing as he and Sargent headed for the parking lot.

School officials later told deputies what transpired and said Sargent and Miller “come to the school on many occasions and cause a scene,” according to the report.

But Sargent and Miller said their daughters, ages 6 and 9, have endured academic, social and behavioral problems since moving from Traverse City’s Central Grade School to Long Lake this year.

In the last 6 months the girls’ grades have dropped, the older girl has been bullied by classmates and both daughters have been placed in special resource room programs, Miller said.

”My kids were doing wonderful at Central Grade School,” Miller said. “I think I should have a right to get a little bit loud and a little bit upset.”

Miller and Sargent said school officials dismissed their concerns, including the bullying.

The parents also said school Principal Terri Sheldon is rarely present at the school to discuss their concerns.

Sheldon did not return multiple calls for this story.

TCAPS Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr said she would not speak about any individual or parental situations, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Mohr added TCAPS takes all complaints and concerns seriously, and investigates them.

FERPA prevents public school officials from disclosing certain student information, including academic and disciplinary records.

It does not forbid officials from discussing parental concerns or complaints, said Jonathan Jorissen, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association.

Miller and Sargent pulled their daughters out of Long Lake and are considering sending them to another TCAPS school. The couple also scrawled messages of protest about Long Lake on the body and windows of their mini van.

Both parents turned themselves in this week after authorities issued warrants for their arrest. Sargent was arraigned in 86th District Court, pleaded not guilty and requested a court-appointed attorney.

Miller’s first court appearance is scheduled for May 16.

Miller and Sargent face up to 90 days in jail, $500 fines, or both if convicted of the misdemeanor charges.

“Who’s going to watch our kids if we get locked up over some dumb charges?” Miller said.