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GRPS: Teacher disciplined following choking allegations

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A teacher with Grand Rapids Public Schools was placed on administrative leave after allegations he physically removed a student from the classroom earlier this month, according to the district.

The child's mother is upset about the situation and how it has been handled.

"I literally just found out today that he only got a three-day suspension," Shaniqua Walker said about the teacher.

Her son Zacari described being choked over a pair of scissors that Kent Hills Elementary 4th grade teacher Robert Spaeth thought belonged to him.  When Zacari didn't hand over the scissors, Walker said the teacher tried physically removing her son form the classroom.

And when Zacari tried to come back in, Spaeth allegedly pushed him back out the door by his throat and allegedly used a racial slur.

"My issue with it is, he's a grown man," Walker said. "Why did you have to put your hands around my son's throat? Period."

Walker wants assault charges pressed, but Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman John Helmholdt said the district did not find enough evidence for that.

However, they did find the teacher acted unprofessionally which is why he is on leave. We're told Grand Rapids police also looked into the assault allegations and that the Kent County Prosecutor's Office reviewed it.

GRPS released a statement, saying in part:

"Both investigations concluded that the incident did not amount to an assault. However, in accordance with board policy and our employee handbook, disciplinary action was taken due to the unprofessional conduct of the teacher during this incident."

Walker feels the district is pushing the issue aside, and that they the incident called it "a slight push."

"Now, if you pushed him out the classroom, that's still unacceptable," Walker said. "But this man whole choked my child and I'm very upset about it."

We're told Spaeth was put on paid administrative leave between Oct. 12 and Oct. 23.  The district tells FOX 17 they cannot confirm what disciplinary action he faced.

Here is the full statement from GRPS:

“On October 12, an incident occurred between a 4th grade teacher and a student at Kent Hills Elementary where it was alleged that the teacher assaulted the 4th grade student. Upon learning of the allegations, the teacher was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. In addition to the school district’s investigation, due to the serious nature of the allegations, it was also reported to the Grand Rapids Police Department and reviewed by the Kent County Prospector's [sic] Office.
Both investigations concluded that the incident did not amount to an assault. However, in accordance with board policy and our employee handbook, disciplinary action was taken due to the unprofessional conduct of the teacher during this incident. The teacher in question was out on paid administrative leave from October 12 through October 23. A disciplinary hearing was conducted on October 19.
We cannot stress enough how seriously we take student safety and any allegations related to teacher-student assault. Our public safety team acted swiftly, conducted a thorough investigation, and worked closely with GRPD and the prosecutor’s office on this matter.”

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