POLITICS
02/03/2017 05:09 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2017

Teacher Suspended After Rescinding College Letter For Student Who Made Swastika

Two other teachers who dared make the incident a teachable moment also were punished.

A Massachusetts high school teacher has been suspended from her job after rescinding a college recommendation letter for a student caught making a swastika. 

The Stoughton High School teacher, an Army veteran, is one of three teachers at the eastern Massachusetts school disciplined for discussing the swastika a student fashioned from tape and displayed in a hallway. Two of the teachers received disciplinary letters. The third was suspended for 20 days because she explained to college admissions officials why she was revoking her letter of recommendation for the student.

“The student believed that he was being targeted, creating a hostile environment for him by members of the faculty because of his actions, despite having already been disciplined by the administration,” schools Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi wrote in a letter to staff that was obtained by The Enterprise newspaper in Brockton.

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Stoughton High School 

The teacher will serve the suspension by not teaching on Thursdays or Fridays until April. School officials have declined to identify the teachers.

John Gunning, president of the local teachers union, said he was “deeply troubled” by the discipline.

“Having the teacher serve the suspension in two-day increments for 10 weeks interrupts the continuity of instruction and is detrimental to the students,” Gunning, who leads the Stoughton Teachers Association, told The Enterprise.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which backs the local union, called punishment of all three teachers an “injustice.”

“The MTA is vigorously defending the teachers who were disciplined, and the statewide organization will support the Stoughton Teachers Association in any way possible as it fights the injustice done to members,” Barbara Madeloni, president of the state association, told The Enterprise. “Educators will not allow bigotry and hate to take hold in our schools. Nor will we allow those who speak and act against hate speech to be silenced.” 

A GoFundMe account for the suspended teacher described her as “a very caring, funny, and most selfless teacher/veteran at Stoughton High School.” The posting said she was “simply doing her job when correcting a student in his bad behavior.”

The trouble stemmed from a November incident in which a male student was caught making a swastika out of tape by another student as they decorated the halls, according to The Enterprise. The student who had made the swastika responded by making a comment about Adolf Hitler.

It was the second time in less than a month that the school dealt with an incident involving a swastika, according to the newspaper. In an earlier incident, the symbol was used in a phone group chat involving several different students.

Police decided the swastikas didn’t constitute hate crimes, and school officials said they punished students who were involved, according to The Enterprise. Teachers asked administrators to send a letter home to parents explaining the situation, according to The Boston Globe. That didn’t happen, the Globe reported, and students and some teachers began talking about it. 

One teacher broached the subject in her classroom. Another raised the topic of anti-Semitism with fellow teachers, and privately with a student. Both were sanctioned with disciplinary letters.

The third teacher had written a letter of recommendation to a college for the boy who made the swastika. She contacted the college and explained why she was withdrawing her endorsement. A school district disciplinary committee decided last week to suspend the teacher without pay for saying why she had rescinded the letter, according to the teachers union. 

The punishments followed a complaint made to the superintendent by the mother of the boy who made the swastika.

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