September 29, 2017
A prominent Jewish human rights group doubled down on its criticism of a Massachusetts school district that disciplined a teacher for discussing antisemitism, following objections from the district’s superintendent.
Stoughton High School teacher Stella Martin — who faced an arbitration hearing on Tuesday — was reprimanded over a classroom discussion she held on antisemitism last November after a student posted a swastika in the school. The mother of the offending student claimed that her son was bullied by Martin during the lesson, a charge the school district dismissed. Martin, however, was admonished for engaging in conduct “unbecoming of a teacher.”
Two other teachers at the school — Jamie Regan and Hilary Moll — were disciplined for related reasons, and are scheduled to face arbitration hearings later this year.
In a letter sent to Stoughton Public Schools Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi on Monday, shortly before Martin’s hearing, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Right Under Law (LDB) commended Martin for acting “appropriately and admirably,” and expressed concern that her punishment “will have a chilling effect on other teachers when faced with anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.”
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Rizzi’s response to LDB on Wednesday — a copy of which was obtained by The Algemeiner — welcomed “the opportunity to have a dialog,” but noted that she was restricted from openly discussing the case due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. “It is patently unfair that you are engaging in a publicity and media relations effort knowing that we cannot defend ourselves in the court of public opinion,” she added.
“Your letter is unfair and largely untrue, and it only furthers a divide that we did not create and that we only seek to heal,” Rizzi wrote. “The Stoughton Public Schools renounce hate and anti-Semitism. … We do not permit, encourage, or foster such behavior.”
LDB Senior Staff Attorney Jennie Gross told The Algemeiner on Friday that while the group was “pleased that Dr. Rizzi is interested in a dialogue with us,” the school district’s own investigation report, written statements, and correspondence clearly indicate “that Stella Martin and two of her colleagues have faced a grave injustice.”
“Worse, it is clear from the Stoughton School District’s own admissions that the mistreatment of these three teachers will send a terrible message to other teachers and students about the district’s unwillingness to treat anti-Semitic incidents with the seriousness that they deserve,” she added.
Gross noted that Rizzi “has not disputed any particular factual assertion in our letter,” and called on the superintendent “to immediately reverse the punishments that she has imposed upon Stella Martin, Jaime Regan, and Hilary Moll, and to take action to ensure that, in the future, Stoughton teachers and staff know how to properly address any future hate or bias incidents.”