GRPS superintendent threatens to sue parent for defamation

Grand Rapids

UPDATE: Lily Schulting, a parent who spoke out against the way Grand Rapids Public Schools handles special needs students is retracting statement she made against Superintendent Teresa Weatherall. 

Schulting posted the following statement on Facebook Thursday, Sept. 19, 2018:

The original report from July 20, 2018 is below.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools is threatening legal action against the parent of a special needs student who is also a critic of the district and a Democratic candidate for the State Board of Education.  

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal says the parent defamed her and is creating problems where none exist.  

It is all but unheard of for a school district superintendent to threaten legal action against a parent. But in this case, Neal says the parent lied about her saying the superintendent was threating those unhappy with special educations programs administered by GRPS.  

The story started Feb. 28 when Neal had a press conference to address complaints by staff and parents of special needs students, which was led by Lily Schulting, a parent and advocate who is now running for the State Board of Education.  

Neal was very blunt in saying many there was no basis for almost all the complaints laid out in a petition calling first for the firing of the special education director and later calling for Neal herself to step down. 

Schulting claims that Neal said, they will be dealt with,’ referring to those staff and parents voicing concerns.  

“My assumption is, and because she seemed upset, that I assumed she meant that she was going to punish us,” Schulting said.  “I think a lot of people do remember it and they had a similar reaction.”  

Schulting says she has not been able to find the statement now, but she is sure she heard it and so did others. She later posted the alleged statement on Facebook, but now says she believes that it is possible she misinterpreted the superintendent’s intent.  

But Neal says there is nothing to misinterpret.  

“Oh, I didn’t say it,” Neal said.  

24 Hour News 8 was there, but we did not save the entire press conference from six months ago.  

“Sorry, well you should have,” Neal told 24 Hour News 8. “We did.”  

The news conference posted by the district in two parts on YouTube did not show the comments alleged by Schulting. 

Schulting said the district did send her a copy of the press conference.  

“They sent me two video tapes that were broken in half and I think it was somewhere in the middle,” Schulting said   

Since then, Schulting has received letters and emails, the first in April from GRPS legal counsel assistant superintendent Sharon Potts and another this month from an outside attorney who specializes in dispute resolution, Richard Glaser. 

“What you can’t do is say that I said something that isn’t true and it was at a press conference, so absolutely I’m not gonna take that,” Neal said.  “This is a very emotionally charged issue for parents and for staff members. The last thing we need is for someone to say something to just fuel the fire. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.”  

The superintendent says she is not looking for money.  

“Oh, I don’t need an apology from anyone,” Neal said. “It is for her to retract the statement.”  

Schulting has removed references to the alleged statement on her social media and from the petition signed by hundreds of staff and parents.  

“I would certainly be more than willing to retract under normal conditions,” Schulting said. “If that is all she wants then I’m happy to retract it.  

“I mean I love to say I’m sorry all the time to people, it’s no big deal to me because I just want to be able to communicate well with people.” 

No suit has been filed, but in one of the emails sent by the district to Schulting, it says, “Even if you retract the statement, there is no guarantee that the district will not pursue all of its legal remedies for the damage that you have caused to the reputation of the superintendent and the district.”  

Schulting says she plans to keep advocating but she hopes a resolution outside a courtroom can be reached.  

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