CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. -- For three years, the community of Cedar Springs has been divided over Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Laura VanDuyn. Some accuse her of bullying, intimidation and retaliation and have urged her to resign. Others say those who oppose her are taking things too far.
VanDuyn joined the Cedar Springs Public School District as superintendent in 2014. She beat out Associate Superintendent David Cairy, who many staff supported, for the job.
VanDuyn has not responded to FOX 17's request for an interview.
Staff members say the controversy started as an issue among them and quickly spread throughout the community.
“I am completely in support of Dr. VanDuyn," first grade teacher Tricia Boggiano tells FOX 17. "I don’t think that she’s always had to make the easiest choices, the nicest choices, but I think she came in with the best intentions, and she’s been nothing but attacked since she got here. She’s never been given a chance.”
Libby Metiva, a Cedar Springs seventh grade teacher, says that's not the case.
“A misconception that’s out there is that we didn’t give Dr. VanDuyn a chance, and that we were just a bunch of disgruntled people because our guy didn’t get the job," says Metival “She could have come in and done nothing but just ride on the coattails, and we were doing all these things that we believed in and what we believed were best for kids, and instead we had a lot of change.”
Middle school math teacher Brett Burns tells FOX 17 he disagrees with people who say those who oppose VanDuyn simply aren't open to change.
“Teachers change every day. Teachers change every hour. It depends on who they get. Every class is different," Burns says. "It depends every hour, because kids are up and down. So to say that we’re not willing to change is just not even close to the mark."
On March 14, the Cedar Springs Education Association took a vote of no confidence in VanDuyn. The results showed 88 percent in support of the no confidence vote.
Nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition urging VanDuyn to resign.
The divide has trickled into classrooms and impacted Cedar Springs students.
“I know other people from different schools, and they don’t go through this stuff," a recent Cedar Springs High School graduate tells FOX 17. She asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. She says when she was a student, she was bullied because her parents expressed support for VanDuyn.
“I like cried happy tears when I graduated, because I was so ready to be done and move on to the next stage of my life, because I just -- it was awful," the student says.
One mother who also asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation tells FOX 17 she has to be careful to choose teachers for her kids who also support the superintendent, because she worries teachers will retaliate against them because she supports VanDuyn.
“I shouldn’t have to worry about that," the mother says. "I should only have to worry about who’s going to give my child their best education."
“We lost some amazing teachers," parent Ellen Karafa, who says she was hurt to learn that one teacher who made a major impact on her child was leaving the district.
“I asked her point blank, ‘How dare you give up on my child?’” Karafa says. “Her response was, When you are driving into work -- and even if it’s a short distance -- and you fear going into work because you know that you cannot teach your students the way you want to teach them, and emotionally you don’t have that to give them, she just told us that she was not able to be the teacher she used to be.”
Multiple complaints of bullying and harassment have been filed against VanDuyn by former Dean of Students Autumn Mattson. In each complaint, VanDuyn was not found to be at fault. However, some argue that the process for filing these complaints isn't fair.
“Although there have been seven formal complaints of bullying or harassments, those complaints go directly to VanDuyn. So, not only is the person, the alleged perpetrator, the person who decides whether there has been bullying or harassment, she’s also our boss," says Cedar Springs Spanish teacher Virginia Valentine.
Cedar Springs fifth grade teacher Jen Kahler says that under VanDuyn's administration, teachers aren't able to do what's best for their students.
“I’m a first grade teacher, so reading is hugely important, and what troubles me most about Dr. VanDuyn is the decisions she’s made regarding our programs," Mary Graf tells FOX 17. "She’s cut some really crucial programs for struggling readers.”
But some teachers say if they express their support for VanDuyn, they will face consequences from their colleagues.
“There’s bullying, there’s retaliation. I’ve been told, ‘You’re the only one that feels that way and therefore it doesn’t matter,'" says a teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.
The teacher says she thinks part of the reason so many people don't like VanDuyn as their superintendent is because she's a woman.
“I think Dr. VanDuyn is an intelligent, strong woman," the teacher says. "She’s been all over the world. She’s been to 35 countries. She’s held leadership positions in several districts. She’s educated, and I think all of those things are intimidating to people. I think that that’s intimidating when you’re a woman to some people, when if you’re a man, it’s not.”
Boggiano says she wants the dispute to end.
“I can’t keep fighting with these people and let it break my heart, because it is," Boggiano says. "It’s very upsetting."
However, many who disapprove of VanDuyn say her resignation is the only solution.
“I don’t feel like there’s a way to move forward," parent Tammie Drake tells FOX 17. "The divide is too deep. She clearly has not shown that she wants to fill in that divide. She’s happy with it the way it is, playing people against one another, dividing our community.”
School Board President Heidi Reed issued the following statement to FOX 17:
"The Board has and will continue to listen to the community’s concerns and will do our best to evaluate these claims in a fair, orderly, and objective manner. Our review is always ongoing, and occurs on a formal and informal basis. As Board members, we regularly interact with the Superintendent, individually and collectively. We are privy to Information from multiple stakeholders and citizens. Our decisions are made objectively based on the facts – both positive and negative - our experiences and personal knowledge as well as reports made to us. We do not evaluate based on crowd input. We note that during Dr. VanDuyn’s tenure at Cedar Springs Public Schools, she has been evaluated three times by prior boards rating her as ‘highly effective.’"
A protest to demand VanDuyn's resignation will be held on Monday before a school board meeting is held in the Cedar Springs High School Auditorium at 6:45 p.m.