The Student News Site of East Lansing High School

Portrait

The Student News Site of East Lansing High School

Portrait

The Student News Site of East Lansing High School

Portrait

An imperfect system

The right and wrong ways to address Petrowitz’s behavior.
Hunching+over+the+podium%2C+Mark+Pontoni+reads+his+statement+in+defense+of+Petrowitz+to+the+school+board+meeting+on+Oct.+9+
Photo by Nick Acevedo
Hunching over the podium, Mark Pontoni reads his statement in defense of Petrowitz to the school board meeting on Oct. 9

On the evening of Monday, Oct. 9, the East Lansing School Board held a regular meeting where Dennis Petrowitz was officially separated from the East Lansing School District. It was a relief to many students and teachers alike, myself included. However, during the meeting time was allocated for community members to comment on the matter.

President of the East Lansing Education Association (ELEA), Mark Pontoni, boiled the situation down to a significant number of people who made Petrowitz the focal point of their anger. In his nearly five-minute speech to the school board and community, he stated that the conditions of teacher employment are not dictated by the feelings of students and parents. 

Pontoni spoke at the school board meeting about how he believes the process of judging Petrowitz has been flawed. It seems Pontoni spoke not only as union president, but also as a close colleague of Petrowitz. 

“[Petrowitz] is an imperfect human,” Pontoni said at the meeting. “He is however, not the demon he has been portrayed [as] on social media and even in this very boardroom. I sat here and listened to people, perhaps due to their own imperfections [that] have berated him and shown very little interest in the truth.” 

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In a separate interview with him after the meeting, Pontoni maintained that the system in which teachers are disciplined is much more complex than the feelings of the community. To him, it is the duty of the teacher’s union to protect East Lansing district employees and their rights to due process. As contracted employees, teachers are protected not only by federal and state laws, but also by the union contract. Even in the case of criminal misconduct Pontoni expects the union to uphold what are considered proper procedures. 

However, our union still exists within the scope of public education. Policy should not sacrifice student safety. In this case, Petrowitz’ behavior isn’t something to be protected. Me, and many students like me, are thankful he was separated from the district. 

Many students who have been taught by Petrowitz shared stories of recurring incidents in his classroom. Some students I spoke to experienced situations of being made uncomfortable around him when they were his students. However, because the union received no official complaints from students, Pontoni said he was unaware of these accusations.

“To this point it really doesn’t matter, because he’s gone,” Pontoni said. “But you know, I would encourage people to speak up if they feel that way.”

When it comes to systems like “OK2SAY” and formal complaints to the union, students are often met with roadblocks like the union policies that defend teacher’s rights to be “fairly” disciplined.

After Pontoni spoke, the final public comment was made by parent Brandy Branson. As a member of the East Lansing Parent Advocacy Team, Branson spoke directly about the situation and made reference to Pontoni’s comment. Making it clear that students’ feelings and safety should always contribute to teacher employment.

“I understand how unions work. I understand all of those things. But if you were not ever involved in every single instance, in our ‘reality shows,’ you might want to make sure you’re accurate,” Branson said “We need students to feel protected, to [not just] call a number to report teachers, because our students don’t know that something may be wrong.”

Hearing the voices of students and their experiences showed Branson that the issue is much larger than how parents are feeling. This is an issue of policy and procedure. If this ever happens in the future, the union leadership shouldn’t be as eager to defend teachers who have been found to do something that is harmful to students in as overt a way as Petrowitz was.

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About the Contributor
Nick Acevedo, Visuals-Print Editor
Nick Acevedo is a member of the Class of 2025 and one of the visual designers for Portrait. They have been on staff since their sophomore year during the 2022-23 school year. When they are not in the newsroom, Nick loves to draw, read, and watch movies/tv shows.

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