Onaway parent facing eavesdropping charges claims district violated her rights
ROGERS CITY — An Onaway parent claims the Onaway Area Community School District and several administrators inflicted emotional damage and violated her rights when they ordered her to keep off of school property.
The no-trespassing order, issued shortly after parent Erin Chaskey allegedly recorded a conversation between school officials without their knowledge, led to humiliation, mental anguish, and a damaged reputation, according to Chaskey, who claims the district acted in retaliation because she questioned materials used to teach about racism in a high school classroom.
Chaskey, 37, faces a criminal eavesdropping charge stemming from the alleged recording, which she made outside the office of then-superintendent Rod Fullerton in mid-October while at the school to pick up a form, according to court documents.
In a lawsuit filed in early November, Chaskey said she broke no law by the recording and claimed the school district targeted her because she vocally challenged their policies.
Fullerton has since taken a position in a different school district, according to Mindy Horn, interim superintendent for the district.
Horn said the district has not received any information about a lawsuit and declined to comment on the eavesdropping charge.
The district is “currently in the process of reviewing our curriculum and making sure students and staff have the resources they need to continue to be an award-winning school district,” Horn said.
Since at least March, Chaskey, via a series of emails to Fullerton shared in court documents, expressed concern about the materials and approach of a high school social studies teacher in her instruction about racism.
Chaskey also expressed support for the school district and its administrators, according to copies of emails in court documents.
On Oct. 14, when she went to the high school after school hours, Chaskey said she heard Fullerton and school board member Michael Benson talking in an office down a hallway, criticizing her and allegedly plotting to hide their conversations from her.
She recorded the conversation on her phone while standing in the hallway, out of sight of the speakers, but with the door to the office open, according to the civil suit.
Chaskey later told Fullerton she had overheard his conversation. Shortly thereafter, the school district submitted hallway surveillance video to police. According to a police document, the video showed her holding her phone as though recording while “in an area that Chaskey should not be in as a private citizen.”
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Police seized Chaskey’s phone to provide evidence to present to the prosecutor, Presque Isle County Sheriff Joe Brewbaker said. He would not say whether police recovered audio of Fullerton’s conversation from the phone because police are still investigating the case.
On the same day that police seized Chaskey’s phone, Fullerton wrote Chaskey a letter saying she had violated a law prohibiting residents from using a device to record a private conversation.
Fullerton wrote that Chaskey was no longer allowed on school property. School staff had been instructed to call police if she came onto campus, including to sporting events, unless for a Board of Education meeting, he said.
Hillsdale defense attorney Daren Wiseley, representing Chaskey, said the men in the office should have had no expectation their conversation was private. Chaskey had entered through a door that clanged upon closing and had been “standing in plain view of the public” while recording the conversation, he said.
On Nov. 8, Chaskey filed a civil suit against the school district, Fullerton, Benson, and the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office.
Chaskey’s lawsuit alleges school officials used the recording to kick her off school property because she was outspoken at school board meetings and on social media and had strong convictions about the political and social nature of the school curriculum.
The lawsuit challenges the legality of the seizure of Chaskey’s phone and said school officials intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her by conduct that was “extreme, outrageous, and of a character not to be tolerated by a civilized society.”
Chaskey asks in the suit that the court order police to give her phone back, keep the school from enforcing the no-trespassing order, and award an unspecified amount in damages for emotional injury, violation of rights, and attorney fees.
Wiseley agreed to represent Chaskey at no cost, according to a blog post linked to his website, which also calls her “a target of cruel, insidious, and defamatory actions by Onaway School District’s Marxist agenda, corrupt administration, and spineless enablers.”
Chaskey will next appear in the 89th District Court on the eavesdropping charge on Tuesday. The court will set a date for the civil suit after it has proof the document has reached the Onaway School District, according to the Presque Isle County Clerk’s office.