Teacher rescinds college recommendation after student makes swastika. Both suspended.

When a student fashioned a swastika out of tape at this Massachusetts high school, he ended up suspended. And then a teacher did as well for rescinding a college letter of recommendation for the teen.

The suspension of a Massachusetts teacher for withdrawing a college letter of recommendation for a high school student who fashioned a swastika out of tape at school is drawing national fire.

The teacher and two colleagues at Stoughton High School in Stoughton, Mass., got in trouble related to a Thanksgiving week incident in which a male student created a swastika out of tape while decorating the halls after school. Another student complained and told the teen to remove it. The student who made the Nazi symbol reportedly then made a comment regarding Adolf Hitler’s killing of Jews during the Holocaust.

When the incident was reported to the school, the teenage boy was suspended. And that is apparently where the school district believes it should have ended, as does the teen’s mom who complained it did not. In, fact, the parent reported her son was being “bullied” by teachers, leading  the superintendent to bring in a civil rights investigator.

According to the local newspaper, the Enterprise, two teachers were reprimanded for talking about the incident while another was suspended without pay for 20 days for withdrawing a letter of recommendation she wrote for the student, prompting the Massachusetts Teachers Association to get involved. (Read the Enterprise stories if you are interested as there are several thorough reports. Thank goodness for local newspapers that cover these stories in detail.)

One issue is whether the tape swastika constituted a hate crime or hate speech, which the Enterprise reports police ruled it did not.

The paper reports:

“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, the president of the state association, told The Enterprise on Thursday. “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

One teacher, an Army veteran, is serving a 20-day suspension without pay for talking to one student, her colleagues and rescinding a college letter of recommendation for the student who made the swastika and telling the school why in vague terms, according to the union. The student was enrolled in the high school’s Holocaust course at the time.

Two other teachers received letters of reprimand – one talked to her students about the situation when she walked into a classroom and they were speculating on it. And another talked about the situation with her colleagues, as well as one student during a private conversation.

“Without the guidance of administration, teachers used their best professional judgment to address a very serious matter amongst their colleagues and with students when they felt it was appropriate,” Melanie Ingrao, the union’s grievance chair, told The Enterprise on Wednesday.

Here are my questions about this story:

Are teachers bound by strict confidentiality in all student discipline proceedings and outcomes? What if the incident is widely known in the school, and students are either talking about it or asking about it? Must teachers say nothing ever?

While the sentiment in online forums is clearly on the side of the teachers, are schools legally compelled to protect students who have already been disciplined? Evaluate this in terms of your own kids — if your son screwed up and was suspended, would you want teachers talking about what he did with other students?

My own kids have gone to school with classmates arrested for theft and robbery. These incidents have sometimes even made the newspaper. The students involved disappear for a while and then show up back in class with nothing ever being said.

However, wouldn’t a letter of recommendation fall outside any confidentiality rules? The teacher who wrote the letter signed her name attesting to the student’s character. She was not writing on behalf of the school administration. She was signing her own name to a personal letter. Does she have a right to rescind her personal recommendation?

As someone posted online: “A teacher should have the right to rescind a college recommendation letter if a student does something they feel counters the image they had of the student. This is especially important because that letter of recommendation impacts the teacher’s future credibility. The school is wrong in their actions and I hope MTA prevails.”

However, as the Enterprise reported, the teacher did not just rescind the letter of recommendation, but told the college why she was doing so in “vague” terms. And that might justify the suspension, as this commenter noted:  “The teacher was suspended for 20 days because she explained to college admissions officials why she was revoking her letter of recommendation for the student. The newspaper story repeats it later on in the article, implying that if she had simple revoked the letter without saying why, she would not be in trouble. Presumably, students discipline records are private, and cannot be shared, so in that case, the school is most likely right. However, in the other teacher punishment issues I think the school will lose.”

Your thoughts on this gray Sunday that we hope ends on a sunny note with a Falcons win?

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

20 comments
LOJOE
LOJOE

During my K-12 years (graduated from high school in 1951) there was no.confidentiality about disciplinary proceedings. In fact, teachers and administrators wanted the widest dissemination of such actions as a deterrent. It hardly seems realistic to epecct to expect that juvenile offfenses like glorifying the swastika and spewing hatred about Jewish people and the Holocaust will not be quickly known. They should cause a vigorous response from school officials with creative corrective measures for the entire school about the evils of bigotry. Once that effort is under way will be the time to worry about college admission recommendations or teachers' signed statements.

Joe Gilliland

Peachtree City

Joeterry1933@gmail.com

demands some extended, even creative, correctional measures for an entire student body.

Roselynn
Roselynn

Too PC all the way around.  If I were the college,  I would certainly want to know of this behavior.  This is a teaching moment, literally and figuratively. There are consequences in life. No one should be suspended except the student.

whoreadspaper
whoreadspaper

To Carlos_Castollo. The student was enrolled in the school's Holocaust course when this happened so "ignorance" is not an excuse.

Blynne Roberts
Blynne Roberts

So, the Teacher doesn't have the right to "protect" her name???? If this student was accepted and committed an act of racism at the institution, wouldn't that reflect on the Teacher that recommended him? #YourGoodNameIsMorePreciousThanRubies

Joseph Mayes
Joseph Mayes

It may also depend on whether the teacher writes/sends on school stationery, or whether it's a personal letter from the teacher referencing a home address and not the school.

Mike Duffy
Mike Duffy

I never had to worry about such silliness. Things seem so much crazier today.

Joseph Mayes
Joseph Mayes

And hopefully you also never had to deal with someone decorating the school with swastikas either...

Mike Duffy
Mike Duffy

I have caught racist kids doing that, but parents never objected to the discipline. Nor were they college prep.

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Yes, there may be a FERPA violation.  Still, I'm not sure that's really the point. We need more context.


If the incident was "out of the blue" and after some quiet, private, reasoned discussion the student indicated an a) understanding that his action wasn't acceptable behavior and b) intent not to repeat the behavior, then the words "progressive discipline" come to mind.


Perhaps the student ought to have been required to read a few books about the Holocaust like "Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi and write a report on each.


School is supposed, theoretically, to be a learning environment.  Supposing that the kid was parroting what had been told to him by his parents?  Is it better to try to change the kid's mind or use raw power to drive the thoughts underground?


Few high school seniors expect that their ill-advised thoughts after school might have academic consequences akin to academic capital punishment.  My guess is that if the kid wasn't deeply anti-Semitic to begin with, then he might well have become so, now, because of the reaction by those in authority.


Lots of CYA teacher and administrative behavior in Stoughton?


If the student proves to be resolutely anti-Semitic, then sure, there might be grounds to revoke the recommendation.  As for suspension after one instance of bad behavior after school, I'm not sure.   Do we suspend for thought crime?  If he continues with the behavior, then isn't it likely that his social circle would ostracize him? 


If there weren't some reaction in school social circles, then the mandarins in Stoughton may have themselves a larger problem.


Mike Duffy
Mike Duffy

A good reason NOT to write letters of recommendation. Period.

Melissa Barber
Melissa Barber

If the teacher wrote a recommendation letter to the college, the student/parent has already given permission to share FERPA information with the college, have they not? At the point in which she rescinded the letter, she had already given information about the student (in the form of the recommendation). I understand the parent's upset, but I don't think what the teacher did was unethical in any way.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

It depends on what defines "vague terms" in her justification for rescinding the letter. If she/he simply said "an event that changed my opinion of his character" then yes, the teacher is justified. I'm sure the teacher was asked why. If, however, the teacher violated FERpA then there should be repercussions. Regarding if the tape swastika is a hate symbol-- yep, sure is. especially if you are old enough to be heading off to college!

Kate Maloney
Kate Maloney

I do think the teacher has a right to rescind the letter. In terms of what she is able to say, FERPA and ethics apply. I know I would go to my admin to clear my communication in such a way.

insideview
insideview

The teacher should not discuss the incident or suspension with other students or teacher, but  has the right to rescind the r recommendation letter. Professionalism requires confidentiality  when discussing students, but does not obligate the teacher to provide a letter of recommendation.

Jackson
Jackson

The issue is the incident was being investigated. Should not everyone make no statement till the investigation is complete? 


.....When the incident was reported to the school, the teenage boy was suspended. And that is apparently where the school district believes it should have ended, as does the teen’s mom who complained it did not. In, fact, the parent reported her son was being “bullied” by teachers, leading  the superintendent to bring in a civil rights investigator.............

kaelyn
kaelyn

I think teacher should be able to rescind her recommendation, but should not have cited details concerning the student's actions. The teacher could have simply said something along the lines of "due to John Doe's recent behavior, I am no longer able to recommend him for acceptance to your university, and I wish to rescind my letter of recommendation."

"...if your son screwed up and was suspended, would you want teachers talking about what he did with other students?" - I don't think I'd have a problem with it if the issue was the action instead of the person. There's no need to pretend problems don't exist when the reality is that most of the students are more informed about what's going on than the teachers. If Johnny gets arrested for smoking pot in the restroom, the teachers should be able to have a discussion about the dangers of drugs without mentioning Johnny specifically.

I hope the student who made the swastika now understands he made a horrible mistake and learns from it. I applaud the school for suspending (and not expelling) him.

Otis Carter
Otis Carter

@kaelyn exactly.  the letter was written, prior to the horrible conduct.  Why should his/her name be tied to this student.  

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

Recinding the letter was justified. I wouldn't care about the suspension. That's the administrator trying to cya but is actually hurting the school and students. A sub for 20 days teaching a class is not good.

UltraElf
UltraElf

what the teacher does on their own time is their business and NOT The schools. Mass. Is a Tax and spend liberal state and until normal morals come to that tax and spend state, they will continue to be as wacky as ever.

RealAmerican1968
RealAmerican1968

@UltraElf "normal morals"? Because as you presume, it's a "spend liberal state"? The logic of deplorables is really really strange.