When Joshua Vannoy, 17, a junior from Big Beaver, walked into his honors ethnic relations class Friday and sat at his desk in preparation for a midterm exam, he was told by the teacher, John Kelly, to pick up his books. Vannoy moved to another seat, but said Kelly, an avid Steelers fan, told him not to sit there either.
"I figure he's having a bad day, but then he says, 'That's my desk. Your books aren't allowed on my desk.' "
Vannoy said it was all apparently over what he was wearing - a No. 7 jersey that wasn't Ben Roethlisberger's. It was an orange-and-blue John Elway shirt, carrying the logo of the opposing team set to face the Steelers in the weekend AFC Championship Game.
And because he wore it, Vannoy said he was told he had to lie on the carpeted floor inside a circle of desks if he wanted to get his test.
Vannoy said other students were handed their tests; his was thrown at him. Papers flew everywhere, and even after he had them arranged, Vannoy said he was unable to concentrate.
At one point, Vannoy said Kelly handed out notebook paper for a second part of the test and told students to "throw the paper at the Denver fan."
Kelly even demonstrated to students by throwing the first wad, Vannoy said.
"Mr. Kelly threw it and hit me in the back of the head. Some of my friends threw the paper to miss me on purpose," Vannoy said.
Other students were reluctant, he said, including a girl, who said she wasn't comfortable throwing paper at him. He said Kelly threw her paper at him also, with not so much as a smile or a laugh. Vannoy said Kelly seemed serious
Kelly, who did not return messages, told The Denver Post that he didn't threaten Vannoy's grade and called it "silly fun." Kelly told The Post he did the same to a ninth-grader who wore an Indianapolis Colts shirt the previous week, adding that if Vannoy was upset, it was a lesson, which is what the class is designed for.
When class ended, Vannoy said he felt "dehumanized" during a course that's supposed to teach diversity and acceptance. He was shaking, sure he flunked his test because he didn't get to answer one-third of the questions, and was too distraught to eat lunch.
"I was so upset," he said. "I was prepared to take wisecracks and jokes, but when you take it too far," he paused, "he's a teacher."
Vannoy said he went to high school Principal Thomas Karczewski, who shrugged it off. "The principal said, 'What do you want me to do? The worst I can do is probably write him up,' " Vannoy said.
Karczewski told The Post he was sure Kelly had no intent to harm Vannoy, but offered no comment on Monday.
Superintendent Donna Nugent was out of town Friday and said she was made aware of the situation Monday. She said the district is following up with an internal investigation and plans to take any appropriate action necessary.
"We're aware of the situation," Nugent said.
Ron Miller, school board president, said no students should be shamed because of the stance they choose to take.
"Obviously we do not condone any humiliation of students," Miller said.
Vannoy's father, Brian Vannoy, who said he is talking to lawyers, said his son is a good student who happens to be a National Football League fan. Vannoy belongs to National Honor Society and has a 3.8 grade-point average. Vannoy's parents were worried he would get a lower grade in the class.
"On Friday, he asked for a retest with the principal, who blew him off and said, 'I can't do anything about it.' We never heard back," Brian Vannoy said.
Joshua Vannoy said he's now at the point where he's just ready to drop the class.
"I honestly don't want to go to school (today) because it's going to be a mess," he said.