Vollbach bench trial scheduled
Former East Jordan Public Schools teacher Paula Vollbach will have a bench trial for an alleged assault on a student.
Judge Richard May, of Charlevoix County's 90th District Court, OK'd the bench trial request on Thursday morning. Vollbach faces a criminal misdemeanor charge for an alleged March 3 assault with a ruler against a 10-year-old boy.
Vollbach's bench trial is set to begin Oct. 20 in district court.
The alleged victim's parents reported the incident to police and East Jordan Public Schools officials quickly placed Vollbach on a leave of absence from her elementary art teacher job. School officials then launched an internal investigation into allegations of other instances of verbal and physical abuse against students.
District officials have since laid Vollbach off, citing budget constraints.
Petoskey-based attorney Mary Beth Kur, who will defend Vollbach, said her client maintains her innocence and wants her day in court.
"She doesn't feel she did anything criminal and she doesn't want to be labeled as a criminal," Kur said.
Charlevoix County's chief assistant prosecutor Shaynee Fanara could not be reached for comments. Fanara is assigned to prosecute the Vollbach case.
In recent weeks, the prosecution filed a motion to submit as evidence in the assault trial a school district report generated through its internal investigation into Vollbach. Court officials canceled the hearing to address that request and it's unknown whether the prosecution still intends to submit the district's investigation report as evidence.
In total, the district's investigation uncovered no fewer than 15 specific instances of alleged physical abuse against students and violations of the district's policies. The Petoskey News-Review acquired that report under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
The prosecution's witness list includes police and school administration officials, as well as the child victim and other students in Vollbach's classroom that day.
The defense's witness list also includes police and school administration officials, as well as a private investigator, teachers and all 24 students in Vollbach's classroom when the alleged assault occurred. Kur said she may call every one of those students to testify.
"I want to know what they saw or didn't see," Kur said.
An East Jordan Police report, also obtained under Michigan FOIA, alleges the student victim in the March 3 incident asked Vollbach for help with an assignment before she, in turn, asked him whether he needed to be in a class for students who require "special help." This verbal exchange happened prior to the alleged assault with a ruler, records show.
Vollbach worked as a long-time art teacher in the district and became heavily involved in the community's youth theater program, the E.J. Thespians. Her personnel file shows more than 20 years of positive performance evaluations as the district's elementary art teacher.