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.