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Grosse Pointe South Choir Director on Leave After Student Reports Battery

Grosse Pointe Farms Department of Public Safety is investigating the report filed by a student June 8 alleging he was struck in the head with his own cell phone.

choir director Ellen Bowen is on paid administrative leave following an alleged altercation with one of her students that prompted him to tell school administration and police.

According to the police report, the student told police Bowen took his cell phone from him and struck him in the head with it. The student then left the classroom, and he reported the situation to school administrators. Grosse Pointe South principal Matt Outlaw called Grosse Pointe Farms police.

Outlaw told police that Bowen discovered the student was using his cell phone, took it from him and then hit him on the head, according to the police report. The student did not sustain any injuries as a result of being struck in the head with the cell phone, according to the police report. 

The incident is under investigation by detectives, according to a police report.

District spokeswoman Rebecca Fannon said in response to a request about the incident that the school system "is currently investigating a personnel matter. We have contacted local law enforcement, with whom we will cooperate fully, keeping student safety at the forefront."

This is not Bowen's first encounter with the police. She fought to maintain her teaching certificate before the tenure commission in 2008, following a June 2006 traffic altercation with a former South student off school grounds in .

Grosse Pointe Education Association President Renae Beyerlein said Wednesday that Bowen has been on paid administrative leave all week, which has been difficult considering it's graduation time.

The leave is indefinite as school administrators await the outcome of the police investigation, Beyerlein said. If the matter is brought to the attention of the school board, Beyerlein said, a hearing will happen during which Bowen and her representatives will be allowed to present their side of the situation.

Patch left a voicemail with Bowen seeking comment but she has not returned the phone call. 

"To miss graduation is very upsetting to her," Beyerlein said. "She is probably more upset than I've ever seen her."

Bowen is well known in the community and beyond for her direction of the choir, which performs during the annual commencement ceremony on the lawn of Grosse Pointe South. This past year she led the choir overseas for .

Fannon said the district has worked with existing staff to ensure programming and duties are carried out without impacting student activities, including summer programming and graduation.

Beyerlein said a substitute director who was used earlier in the year has been filling in, which has been good for the students since they already have a rapport with the substitute.

In the 2006 incident, Bowen was eventually convicted of assault and battery, which she appealed. She was accused of striking the hood of the woman's car with her hand and then intentionally hitting the woman's car with her own SUV at three different times.

According to the tenure commission outcome legal documents, Bowen's license was originally suspended with the exception of being allowed to continue teaching in her current district, Grosse Pointe Public Schools. That decision was reversed, however, by the Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael P. Flanagan.

Bowen's history outlined in the tenure appeal documents included warnings related to: 

  • Use of profanity.
  • Inappropriate communications with co-workers on district email.
  • Inappropriate comments to students.
  • Arguments with co-workers.
  • Cutting a student's hair for a choir performance without first gaining parental permission.

During the tenure appeal, Flanagan ruled that her warnings within the district were not related to the motorist encounter that happened off school grounds. His reversal decision also found that Bowen was not a risk to the safety of students or staff and that the motorist encounter was an isolated incident.

Beyerlein said Wednesday the situation is difficult because Bowen is in a high-profile position that comes with making decisions that may be considered controversial or not popular with families.

"That can make her the target," Beyerlein said. "Her style is certainly unique."

There are a variety of rumors floating about related to Bowen, Beyerlein said. She urged residents to not believe everything they hear. "Sometimes she is perceived in a way that she isn't," Beyerlein said. "(Community members) often only have part of the story."

Patch is also awaiting return phone calls from Superintendent Tom Harwood and Director of Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Dan Jensen for additional information. 

Choir Student June 15, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Also, that if Dan Vicary leaves because she gets fired, it'll all be on you people who are fighting against her and then our program will really suffer. I love Ellen. She will be probably what I remember and cherish most from High School. If I don't have her next year, I can successfully say that my Senior year could be ruined. All because of this child who clearly doesn't know maturity just yet. Also, her past with the car incident- that wasn't even school related! Ellen literally was being targeted by hmm let me think- oh yeah the idiot principle who got fired for inappropriate pictures...
Allison Baker June 15, 2012 at 05:01 PM
These comments need to be heard by the school board before their closed session on June 18th. If you feel strongly about this situation I encourage you to go to www.gpschools.org, click on the school board tab and then click the line that says contact the school board. Regardless of your opinion I encourage you to make your voice heard, we need to let the board know what we are willing to tolerate from a member of the GPPS staff as a community. Do the ends justify the means? How many strikes should a staff member receive? What constitutes a strike? Staff complaints, parental complaints, student safety issues? When is enough, enough?
Britt Baubie June 15, 2012 at 05:07 PM
The issue is learning to take the consequences from your own actions. While her reputation is excellent as a choir director, she is accountable for touching a student whether provoked or unprovoked. This is not 1965 where it was acceptable to hit a student nor do we know the details of the incident. Yes, the "Tough Love" approach is good sometimes. However, this is not the first time she has behaved this way. Personally I witnessed very aggressive behavior while I was a student twenty years ago and watched her singlehandedly ruin another teacher's career. Again, she was given a break several times before. If this was the first time, then yes, it would probably be forgivable. It is time to end this pure and simple. GP School Board, please do the right thing. You cannot afford what can happen in the future if this goes unchecked.
Kristin June 15, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I say if the student broke the rules then HE needs to be the one to apologize to the teacher. Certainly what she did was not wise but that student needs to be held accountable. If Ellen were the football coach no one would be upset and her "toughness" would be applauded. She trains those students well. They appreciate her discipline in the end and her program is the best thing about Grosse Pointe South, as far as I am concerned. Students, like this one, are being raised to think they are the center of the universe.
Chad Bateman June 15, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Boo hoo. Your senior year will be ruined because your teacher will be in jail for assault. Go cry me a river. Glad to see you choir kids are still weirder than ever.
MaryLynn Bertetto June 15, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I am of the opinion that if the school allows this behavior with one teacher, it may allow it with other teachers (or students) that are also high performers. It may be a pattern. I would rather NOT take the chance that one of my children may be a future target of her anger.
Gp voice June 15, 2012 at 07:18 PM
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Mark June 15, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Why only half the choir? Oh probably because they are the other half being abused by her. Although I'm with another commenter here that these people need to suck it up and learn from bullies not go cry about it to someone else. Adapt. Survive on your own terms.
Craig Jeffersonville June 15, 2012 at 08:54 PM
All you people saying that the boy should apologize to Ellen because he broke the rules are dillusional. If you are going to argue that logic, then Ellen should have been thrown out of the GP schools years ago, as she has broken so many GP school rules as well as Michigan laws in her career. He was using a phone in class, something 95% of high school students do while in class, and as a recent graduate of South, no other teacher has ever come close to reacting that way, even to repeat offenders. Also, to the commenter talking about how the football coach would be applauded for his actions in a situation like this, is it maybe because he is coaching a CONTACT SPORT!!! He isn't coaching kids dance routines and pitch variations. The kids make the choir great, not this insane woman.
Chris K June 15, 2012 at 09:44 PM
"He was using a phone in class, something 95% of high school students do while in class, and as a recent graduate of South, no other teacher has ever come close to reacting that way, even to repeat offenders" IF there is any merit to the comment above, I, as a community member and taxpayer say enough is enough. Cell phones ARE NOT NEEDED in a classroom. If kids think they are and teachers allow it, we need to consider how we fund our schools. If kids aren't engaged enough that they have time to use cell phones, then what is wrong with the curriculum?
Choir Student June 15, 2012 at 09:58 PM
This is why I hate the patch. All of you guys gossip about things you aren't involved in. Most of you aren't involved in the choir, and only have heard of rumors of the "famous" Ellen Bowen. I saw the incident, and I am a personal friend of the victim. The only people who should be talking about this is the Grosse Pointe School Board, Administration, and Dr. Outlaw. This is why Grosse Pointe is just a town based on gossip.
Craig Jeffersonville June 15, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Chris K, do you honestly believe that this "cell phone epidemic" is only occurring in GP? Contrary to your ancient viewpoint on technology, cell phones are a major part of society today and bring a lot to education. School today is no longer just pen and pad based, so excluding something like cell phones is ridiculous. This is off topic, so I again will say, Bowen is a psycho, Ron Paul 2012, 9/11 was an inside job.
Chris K June 15, 2012 at 10:32 PM
HUH? I am happy to let kids use their cell phones if it eliminates my responsibility to be sold a bill of goods about how much technology funding I have to pony up for classroom use. Who are we kidding that kids are using their cells for classroom purposes, I may be OLD but I am not stupid and I am no Luddite.. I don't know Craig, what else you do.. but when I go to the movies, church, the symphony, opera, a lecture, I am advised to silence my cell phone. I think it has something to do with RESPECT for the venue ( or in this instance the teacher) and while I don't condone what the teacher did to resolve the issue, I sure do condone respect of institutions . So I don't know who is off topic Jeffersonville but seems to me you raised the issue of the 21st Century. Now live with the consequences.
South Choir Student June 15, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Thank you.
Dawn Patricia June 15, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Perhaps time for South to focus on students rather than rankings. My kids go to a different GP school yet they knew right away who it was when I told them a teacher at South assaulted a student in class. Perhaps it is the bright & talented students she gets to work with have boosted her reputation as a Choir director too. Think about it.
Tanya Kudla June 15, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Being aggressive, erratic, and at times course are all Ellen's style, but physically and intentionally harming a student definitely is NOT.
Allison Baker June 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Sara Eaton Martin - This can not possibly be true... Someone must have hacked Ms. Bowen's account. It is impossible that a member of the GPPSS staff would be calling Jerry Sandusky heroic. Please investigate!!!
Choir Student '98 June 16, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Ellen, As a former student of yours, I have to say that I find it absolutely disgusting that you would defend yourself in such a glib and shameless way. But then I shouldn't be surprised, this kind of thing is not out of character for you. And to all the choir students who feel that none of these posters have any right to comment because "they aren't in her class," well, I was in choir for four years. Which is probably longer than any of you have been, since most of you seem currently enrolled. And in that time I saw Ellen throw a stapler at a student (which hit him) for talking during class. I saw her intimidate and insult students, both boys and girls, who were uncomfortable changing costumes in the wings in front of other students. I was one of the students who filed a complaint with the Principal about her frequent "jokes" that were filled with racial slurs and invective. I saw all of that and so much more, that no other teacher anywhere would ever be able to get away with. That any student caught doing would be expelled for. And you know what? Except for that final incident where I actually spoke up, I was just like you. I forgave, rationalized, or just ignored all of it. I got angry at others who spoke up. I look back now and I'm horrified at what must have seemed like a cult mentality at the time - no matter what Ellen did, we were okay with because she's "great." Open your eyes, choir students of today. I promise, you'll see the same things.
Current Choir Student June 16, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I truly do not think that those comments above are Ellen... As a current choir student I know how Ellen expresses herself via the web and email, and that seems nothin like her. POSER ALERT!
Jennifer Lafer Flanagan June 16, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I know for a fact this is not from Ellen Bowen.
rudolph menchl June 16, 2012 at 02:21 AM
After seeing the recent posts by" Ellen Bowen", i called and checked with the true Ellen Bowen who is en-route to Indiana (which I knew about) for a function there. She has not been on the computer and states that these statements are from someone who stole her identity. I verified this and let Alison Baker know and contacted the writer of the original article. Please disregard those statements as they do not represent the real Ellen Bowen. Please remove.
Ann McReynolds June 16, 2012 at 02:29 AM
I just spoke with Ellen Bowen and she assured me that she did not write any comments on GP Patch. This site has been hacked.
Sara Eaton Martin (Editor) June 16, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Allison & all of those contributing comments, Several of the comments posted on this story were removed. I would like to remind everyone of Patch policies, which require users to identify themselves by their own name, not a pseudonym and that impersonating others is not permissible. Comments have been and will be removed. Allison I was away from the computer for a few hours, which is why the comments remained for a while. In the future, if I don't respond when you or anyone believes a serious violation has happened, please call me 313-212-9715. Patch encourages open conversation but please keep it respectful of others and within the terms of use. Sara
Choir Student June 16, 2012 at 03:51 AM
The simple truth is that Ellen is suspended because the administration feels she is "a danger to children." Her actions weren't right but to say that she is dangerous is absolutely ridiculous. As a recent graduate of South and the choir program, I can say with confidence that no teacher understands students more than Ellen and firing her would hurt so many students who work everyday under her expertise to create something that they can call their own and be proud of.
Allison Baker June 16, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Thanks for getting this corrected Sara, I lost your number when I changed phones and thought for sure you must have been away from the computer... The Patch is a great place for community discussions, as long as we all respect the policies.
Annoyed Choir student June 16, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Chad 2:12 pm on Friday, June 15, 2012 Boo hoo. Your senior year will be ruined because your teacher will be in jail for assault. Go cry me a river. Glad to see you choir kids are still weirder than ever. So Ellen is bullying her students by trying to discipline them? What would you call this response to a grosse points south choir student?
Annoyed Choir student June 16, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Oh and you will only see half the choir at the school board meeting because the other half will be at camps trying to improve themselves for this amazing program led by an amazing teacher.
Ahmed Ismail June 16, 2012 at 04:55 AM
A friend e-mailed me about this article and its comments, especially the obviously fake posts by "Ellen Bowen". It is amazing to me that all of the anonymous posts are being allowed on this forum thread. If someone is not willing to list their REAL name and their e-mail address for all to see, then the moderator should not allow the posting of the comment. The shame of all of this is that someone not familiar with the situation is going to do a Google search for "Ellen Bowen" and be taken to these posts, thinking that Mrs. Bowen is actually making these posts. While some may think this is funny, I think it is a sad commentary and hurts our entire community, not just Mrs. Bowen. There is a very well defined process in place for handling these kind of situations in our school system. The School Board is meeting soon to review the facts and advise the administration how to proceed. Mrs. Bowen and the School Board should be allowed this due process without having to deal with bogus posts like the ones above. The Patch is a source a lot of residents have grown to depend on for accurate, timely reporting. I frankly don't know how you get the reporting you do done in such a timely fashion, Sarah. For the sake of the community, please remove these bogus posts and start monitoring the posts before they become public. If you don't have the time to monitor the posts, then don't allow posts to your articles, as they are denigrating the integrity of your publication.
Barb Hanks June 16, 2012 at 11:50 AM
I sang for Ms. Bowen at MCCC in the 80s, and the behavior described here seems very, very familiar. However, what's appropriate in a college setting doesn't work in public school environments! Some of her behaviors at Macomb were still beyond inappropriate -- like going out drinking with the show choir, The Macombers. They were legal drinking age, but still. And there were the popularity games both in and out of the classroom. She seems to have major impulse control problems that frankly indicate bigger risks than cell phones to the noggin.
John Hetzler (Editor) June 16, 2012 at 01:31 PM
We are going to turn comments off on this story. If you have something you would like to say, please email a letter to the editor to either Sara Martin at sara.martin@patch.com or John Hetzler at john.hetzler@patch.com.

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