A prominent human rights group has urged a school district in Massachusetts to cease disciplinary action against a teacher who talked to her students about antisemitism after a swastika was posted at their high school.
In a letter sent on Monday to Stoughton Public Schools Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Right Under Law (LDB) called on the school council not to proceed with an arbitration hearing against Stoughton High School teacher Stella Martin, which took place late Tuesday night.
LDB Senior Staff Attorney Jennie Gross told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that the center has not yet heard back from any of the recipients of the letter. “The hearing did not finish yesterday, and so there is no outcome yet,” she added.
Martin, who teaches Honors English, was reprimanded for talking to her class of eight seniors about antisemitism after a student at the school posted a swastika on the Senior “Spirit Wall” last November 22. When another student asked him to take down the inflammatory symbol, the instigator spoke about removing and burning the swastika, “the way they burned the Jews.” The incident was reported to the administration, and the student was suspended for six days.
In response, Martin spent “ten to fifteen minutes engaging the students in a discussion about anti-Semitic symbolism, the Holocaust, and hate speech,” according to LDB. “She did not mention the name of the offending student, which she did not know, and she made no statements about him.”
Despite this, the mother of the student who posted the swastika argued that her son was bullied by Martin during the classroom discussion, a charge the school district dismissed. Martin, however, was reprimanded 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 in November and December, respectively.
“It is disgraceful that the Stoughton Public Schools are disciplining a teacher who did the right thing by responding firmly to anti-Semitism,” LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus said of Martin in a statement on Monday. “By mistreating Ms. Martin and her colleagues in this manner, Superintendent Rizzi is sending an awful message that the Stoughton Public Schools will tolerate anti-Semitism but punish teachers who speak out against it.”
Gross told The Algemeiner that while LDB was still reviewing Regan and Moll’s cases, “to the extent that they are punished for discussing the incident, the same First Amendment standards apply.”
“Ms. Moll is punished for describing the incident as hate speech, when the school district claims that it was ‘neither hate speech nor a hate crime,’” Gross added. “First, we think the school district has conflated ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crime.’ The two terms describe different things, and hate speech that does not involve conduct is generally not a crime, and is often protected by the First Amendment.”
“But, while it may not have been criminal, the swastika and the reference to ‘the way they burned the Jews’ is clearly hate speech, in our view,” she added. “And if Ms. Moll expressed that view when asked about the incident, we not only agree with her position, but we also stand behind her right to express it. The First Amendment certainly guarantees the right to speak out against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry — including hate speech.”
Representatives for Stoughton Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
(C) 2017 . The Algemeiner . Shiri Moshe