[nfbmi-talk] Big Article in Kalamazoo Gazette on CHristine Boone
jj at bestmidi.com
Sun Feb 21 17:18:16 UTC 2010
Photo: John A. Lacko Christine Boone, former director of the Michigan Commission for the
Blind Training Center was fired from the job in January for developing a marksmanship
class at the school.
- Allowing blind students to shoot pellet guns at an outdoor target on school property
showed such an egregious lack of judgment, state officials say, that Christine Boone
was fired from her $96,000 job.
But Boone, 50, former director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training
Center in Kalamazoo, said the school's mission is to open doors for blind students
to allow them to "participate in every activity of daily living."
Boone said she was doing just that - empowering blind students - when she designed
a marksmanship class. Her boss, Patrick Cannon, director of the Michigan Commission
for the Blind in Lansing, gave his verbal consent, she said, when she discussed the
idea with him in March 2009.
On Feb. 4, she was fired.
Last Wednesday, she filed an appeal to her dismissal.
In a written statement provided to the Kalamazoo Gazette, Boone said that since her
appointment as director in 2006 she had regularly upgraded the school's curriculum
to meet student needs - such as replacing outdated typing classes with computer training,
introducing specialized technology to level the playing field between blind professionals
and their sighted colleagues, and establishing a peer-support system for blind college
Through it all, Cannon had been a strong supporter, Boone said. Her performance reviews
were excellent, Boone said; only once had she received criticism when she missed
a record-keeping deadline after an illness.
In 2008, when Boone participated with a group of the school's students in a skydiving
jump, the Michigan Commission for the Blind's public-relations director helped publicize
the outing with a headline on a Web site story that read: "Blind Skydivers Challenge
So Boone was stunned, she said, to be fired for allowing a weekly class of adult
students to use two spring-loaded pellet rifles to shoot at a foam-covered plywood
"You cannot have firearms on state property," said Mario Morrow, director of communications
for the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, who is handling
all media calls on the case. "It's a safety-work-rule violation, a serious work-rule
"She created a curriculum where she taught the blind students how to shoot guns.
It was determined that she was to be terminated, immediately," Morrow said.
Morrow said Cannon asked for the investigation of Boone.
"It has a lot to do with a judgment - he lost faith in her judgment," said Morrow,
who said he could only comment on the firing, not the investigation that led to Boone's
dismissal. "You design a class, you go out and purchase firearms and put them in
the hands of students."
Morrow denied Boone was given permission to conduct the class. The Kalamazoo Gazette
was unable to reach Cannon, who was on vacation.
Students must be legally blind and at least 16 years old to attend the training center,
a school located on 23 acres at 1541 Oakland Drive. The school each year serves
about 165 students who live on campus.
"Several students found this (marksmanship) class to be life-changing, giving them,
at long last, the belief that they truly could achieve the same degree of excellence
in their lives as blind persons as they would have done as sighted individuals,"
The potential for that kind of outcome was what prompted Boone to spend six months
working with the school's recreation coordinator to develop the curriculum for the
marksmanship class. When the recreation coordinator was unable to arrange to hold
the class at an off-campus site, Boone said, the class's instructor inquired with
the Michigan State Police and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety about the
legality of conducting the class on campus. Boone said the instructor learned the
class could be held on campus using the spring-loaded pellet guns because they were
not considered to be firearms under state law.
Center staff purchased two pellet rifles at a local Meijer Inc. store and set up
the targets in a wooded area in a ravine behind the school. The guns were stored
in a locked area.
The first class, for adults only, was held in mid-September, Boone said, and was
judged an overwhelming success by students and staff.
So favorable was the response that Boone mentioned the new class in her presentation
at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan in November.
That's when she learned her boss was not happy, Boone said.
After Boone's presentation, Cannon telephoned her at home that same day and ordered
her to cancel the class. He told her to meet with him in Lansing the next morning
and to bring the guns with her.
She suspended the class and reported to her meeting with Cannon, she said, but did
not bring the pellet guns with her for fear they might be mistaken for real weapons
at his office building in Lansing.
She said Cannon was furious she had not brought the guns with her. He insisted he
had confirmed the guns did qualify as firearms under state rules, and arranged to
have another staff person bring the weapons to him later that week. He told Boone
they would be destroyed.
A follow-up e-mail to Boone from Cannon said they would discuss the matter more after
he returned from a business trip.
But a week after meeting with Cannon, Boone was placed on emergency medical leave
when a congenital problem with her leg and foot flared up and required treatment
at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Doctors there ordered her not to work.
On Dec. 30, while still on medical leave, she was told to attend a meeting with Cannon
and her department's director of human relations.
She said she brought documentation that the pellet guns used did not meet the Civil
Service Workplace Safety definition of a firearm as "a weapon from which a dangerous
projectile may be expelled by explosive, gas or air." The guns purchased were spring-loaded.
But she was never allowed to present her full case, said Boone, who has 30 years
of work in rehabilitation services and a law degree.
Boone said the work-safety rule she was accused of breaking lists numerous exceptions
to permit use of firearms, including getting permission from the proper authority.
When Boone insisted Cannon had given permission for the class, she said he acknowledged
remembering the conversation but he thought the class would be conducted off campus.
When she asked why that was not considered in her defense, Boone said she was told
by the director of human relations "that Mr. Cannon did not know what he was approving."
Morrow said civil service disciplinary action in Boone's case could have included
a warning or written reprimand. But she was fired by Cannon, Morrow said, because
Boone's judgment "weighed heavily, as well as losing the confidence of her supervisors."
Boone's supporters remain angry.
"This is as close to corruption as I've ever seen," said Larry Posont, president
of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, who organized a rally in Lansing
to protest Boone's dismissal. "When someone has the power Pat Cannon has, it's wrong.
Anybody who stands up to him, gets fired."
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