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Controversy continues on allegation teacher hit pupil

The mother of a third-grade pupil who claims he saw a music teacher strike a classmate says that, contrary to an assertion by the teacher's attorney, her son never changed his story.

A number of parents, meanwhile, have pulled their children from Marie VanDette's classroom since she returned last month.

Kerry Gmerek said Thursday that her 8-year-old son has stuck to his version of what he saw in VanDette's Newfane Elementary School classroom in late October, regardless of what the teacher's lawyer claims.

"[My son] saw her lean over and take a swing and walk away," Gmerek said.

Scott and Patricia Jurek, parents of the child who purportedly was hit, are preparing to file a personal injury lawsuit against the Newfane School District.

The Jureks have said their son was struck in the face with a xylophone mallet two days before Halloween.

VanDette, 49, returned to the classroom last month and has not been criminally charged.

Michael P. Stuermer, her attorney, has said his client has done nothing wrong.

Groups of outspoken parents appeared at two recent Board of Education meetings, and some continue to question how district officials dealt with the allegations.

Gmerek, who has taken her son out of VanDette's class, said when authorities questioned her son about what he saw, they pressed him on whether he actually saw the mallet contact the other pupil's skin.

Her son's view was obstructed by the teacher, who got in the way but was seen swinging her arm, she said.

The pupil later had a mark under his eye, according to parents who said they have seen the photos taken when the boy got home from school.

Stuermer said teachers union officials had interviewed three teachers who had contact with the boy on the day he purportedly was hit.

None said they saw evidence he was struck or that he told them of any encounter, he said.

Niagara County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Steven Preisch said investigators from the department had presented their information to the district attorney's office.

Prosecutors determined they did not have enough information to act, and the Sheriff's Office considers its involvement in the case over unless new evidence comes to light, Preisch said.

District Attorney Michael J. Violante would not discuss the matter when contacted this week.

Laura Littman pulled three of her children out of VanDette's classroom last month when she found out the teacher was returning to school.

"Putting her back in the classroom is basically saying it never happened," Littman said, "and that is an insult."

Laura Vigliotti, whose first-grade son attends Newfane Elementary, said she was upset to learn about the situation from the newspaper.

"I think the school should have at least sent something to let us know there was an issue," Vigliotti said.

Shannon Morgan said two of her children who had been in VanDette's classes were pulled out when the teacher was allowed to return.

Her children have told her VanDette made pupils feel "afraid to come to class," said Morgan, who added she would describe VanDette's manner as that of a bully.

Kristoff, the school's attorney, said the district wanted to assure parents that its classrooms are safe but could not speak further on the matter because of state and federal privacy laws.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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