By Daniel Libon
STOUGHTON, MA — The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law is again criticizing Stoughton school officials for their handling of an incident involving a student drawing a swastika. The national non-profit has called on the school district to rescind their disciplinary actions against Stoughton High School teacher Hillary Moll, who was suspended without pay following the incident.
Moll was the teacher who rescinded a recommendation letter for the student who posted a swastika on the school’s spirit wall. When another student asked him to remove the swastika, the original student responded with a comment about burning the swastika, “the way they burned the Jews.”
That student was suspended for six days and Moll contacted the dean of admissions for the university the student applied to, telling the university official that her assessment of his character in the recommendation letter she wrote was no longer accurate.
The swastika incident was one of three that were not publically disclosed until members of the Stoughton Teachers Association brought them up at a January 2017 school committee meeting.
Moll was issued a 20-day suspension. She served it by sitting out school for two days a week for 10 weeks .
“Of particular concern is the chilling effect that punishing Ms. Moll will have on teachers and students within the District who wish to stand up to anti-Semitism and bigotry,” LDB attorney Jennifer Gross said a release. “In moments of hate, we must support those who stand up to hate speech. Teaching students that adverse consequences may follow if they dare to call out hateful actions for what they are sends exactly the wrong message about tolerance and inclusivity.”
This is the second time the group has addressed the Stoughton High School swastika controversy. They also wrote on behalf of high school teacher Stella Martin, who was disciplined for spending time during her honors English class discussing the incident, which led to the mother of the boy who drew the swastika accusing Martin of bullying her son. Martin contends that she never mentioned the boy’s name or has spoken to him, according to the Brandeis Center.
A letter of reprimand was placed in Martin’s file for failing to perform the roles and responsibilities of a teacher as defined in the Stoughton High School handbook and therefore didn’t provide an educational climate conducive to student engagement and learning. She lost her case in arbitration.
Following the first Brandeis Center letter, Stoughton Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi called the accusations unfair and untrue. She said in February 2017 that she stands by her decision to suspend Moll, but couldn’t get into specifics due to legal issues.
The school committee hasn’t publicly discussed the discipline handed down during recent meetings, but they may have done so behind closed doors. The agenda item “Update on STA grievance” has been a regular item on the committee’s executive session agenda.
The committee backed a report released last March that stated that the school district’s response was appropriate.
Since the incidents, the Anti-Defamation League has been brought in to help address anti-semitism.