Grand Rapids teacher suspended for grabbing student

Student's mother says teacher's punishment was not enough

Kent Hills Elementary
An Oct. 31, 2017 photo of Kent Hills Elementary school in Grand Rapids.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A teacher with Grand Rapids Public Schools was suspended for grabbing a student and removing them from the classroom.

“I’m not satisfied with his punishment. He choked my son,” said Shaniqua Walker, the boy’s mother.

GRPS confirms that Kent Hills Elementary school teacher Robert Spaeth put his hands on a fourth-grade student during class Oct. 12.

In a Facebook video, Zakari Walker said the teacher picked him up and took him into a hallway, where he choked him.

“When I got out of the classroom, I was facing towards where our lockers are and then when I turned around, he grabbed me there and,” Zakari said.

“He put his whole hands on your neck?” asked community advocate LaDonna Norman, who conducted the Facebook Live interview.

“Uh-huh,” the boy replied.

Zakari said Spaeth also called another student of color a racial slur.

District spokesman John Helmholdt said based on the seriousness of the allegations, the district contacted Grand Rapids police and the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office. But not until after the mom called police.

“We were just asking, ‘Did you call anybody? Did you do anything?’ ‘No, we just went to our higher ups,'” Walker said she was told. “OK, I personally feel if my son came to school and said my mom choked me, y’all was calling CPS, the police and everybody else.”

Helmholt said “both investigations (police and an internal investigation) 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,” he continued in a Tuesday news release.

A copy of the district’s investigation 24 Hour News 8 obtained on Monday, Nov. 20 said the dispute started over a pair of scissors the student allegedly refused to turn over. The district said at least three students witnessed the teacher forcefully remove the student from his chair and push him out of the door.

The witnesses also confirmed the student was acting disruptively and had a pair of scissors in his hand during the entire incident. One witness said the student was laughing during the entire incident and many of the students thought he “was just playing.”

The district did not find evidence that the teacher choked the student. The allegation that Spaeth used a racial slur toward another student was also not corroborated, Helmholdt said. GRPS’ investigation did say the teacher acted in an unprofessional manner when he “utilized force and tipped the student or ‘dumped’ the student from the chair.”

Helmholdt told 24 Hour News 8 that the minute the district learned about the allegations, it followed its procedures “by the book” and placed Spaeth on administrative leave from Oct. 12 through Oct. 23.

GRPS said it held a disciplinary hearing a week after the incident and suspended the teacher for three days after its internal investigation was complete.

“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,” Helmholdt stated.

GRPS says Spaeth is still employed by the district, but has not returned to work since the incident because of personal matters.