A PENS member and her husband met with Cynthia Bergan, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning; Jennifer Price, Principal of Newton North High School, and Jonathan Bassett, Chair of the History Department at Newton North, on December 1, 2014. The stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Verity Educate report published in September, 2014. However, it soon became apparent that the meeting's true purpose was to inform PENS that administrators would not read the report or take any action with respect to its findings.
When asked about the report, Bassett said "I didn't read it and I don't intend to read it". When asked why, he said it was because of an advertisement published by the organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) in 2013. This is nonsensical, especially because there is no connection between Verity Educate and APT.
When reminded that he had long since been told that neither Verity Educate nor PENS had anything to do with the advertisement, Bassett had no response.
Bassett also stated that material selected by teachers was not reviewed, and that it was not his job to review it unless asked by a teacher. He said that this method was satisfactory because "we trust our teachers". He had no response when asked about the presence of altered primary source documents and blatantly biased materials.
Ms. Bergan stated that she had "glanced" at the report, but had not read it. She said she was not allowed to read it because she could only perform acts authorized by the School Committee. She also said that she did not read the report because she did not know who wrote it or what their "agenda" was. It was pointed out to Bergan that the name of the organization that published the report, Verity Educate, was on its cover in five different places. She was also informed that told that Verity Educate's "agenda", which is on the home page of its website, is analyzing textbooks and other material to ensure it is non-biased and accurate.
Principal Price then told the parents about a new, unwritten "rule" which had never before been communicated and was not referenced in a memo from Superintendent Fleishman setting forth the procedure for reporting parental concerns. Price said that the new rule was that only residents with a child in a particular class could speak with NPS staff about that class - in other words, that all parental concerns about a class their child was in had to be resolved prior to the end of the school year; and even if the issue was not resolved, school officials would not discuss it after the end of class.
Price stated that the only exception to the rule would be if a parent petitioned a School Committee member to approach the NPS on their behalf and was willing to devote the time to resolve. Given that there was no evidence that this "rule" ever existed - it was never adopted by the NPS and did even not appear anywhere in writing, it's clear that it was manufactured solely for the purposes of the meeting. In other words, Principal Price literally made up a "rule" out of thin air in an obvious and frankly absurd effort to prevent parents and other concerned citizens from contacting their children's teachers and NPS officials about their concerns. Her disdain for parents and community residents could not have been made more clear.
When Price refused to answer questions about the origin of the rule and where it was promulgated, the parents told her that they would continue to act in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Superintendent in his directive.
At present, parents who ask their children's teacher about class material or the curriculum are told that they must speak with the department chair or principal; however, these administrators state they are not responsible for those issues. There is no functioning mechanism to ask questions or report concerns because teachers are told not to speak with parents about what the class learns, only about their child's performance in class.
Clearly, the NPS has no interest in reviewing material class material, even after being informed (and presented with evidence) that altered primary source documents, text derived from Islamist websites and 1960's-era oil company public relations brochures, and blatantly anti-Israel texts are not only used, but presented to students as "fact".
Also at the meeting, NPS administrators admitted that the Arab World Studies Notebook was used during the 2012-2013 academic year even though officials stated that it has been withdrawn the previous year. They would not discuss why it was not removed despite statements to parents and the media that it was.
When asked to provide evidence that the Notebook had (finally) been removed two years later, and/or that the NPS had taken steps to ensure its removal, officials were silent.
An email confirming the discussion at the meeting is below; it was sent to administrators and School Committee members including then-Mayor Setti Warren. No response was received.
Sat, Dec 6, 2014 10:03 am
Regarding our meeting of December 1, 2014
To jennifer_price firstname.lastname@example.org, cynthia_bergan email@example.com, jonathan_bassett firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms. Price, Ms. Bergan, and Mr. Bassett:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with my husband [redacted] and I yesterday. I am writing to clarify the findings of our meeting so that we all agree on what was said.
Ms. Price told us that there is a rule stating that only parents of current NPS students may approach a teacher, Ms. Price, Ms. Bergan, or Mr. Bassett about class material used in that student's class. My understanding is that if this occurs, Ms. Price, Ms. Bergan, and/or Mr. Bassett will then read material prepared by the parent about their concern, and/or speak with the parent in person.
All other persons, including Newton taxpayers and parents of children not in the particular class where the material is used, must have a School Committee member report concerns about student material to Ms. Price. Ms. Price will then contact Ms. Bergan, Mr. Bassett and/or the class teacher. Some or all of those individuals will then read material given to the School Committee member, and hence to Ms. Price by the reporting party and/or speak with that individual in person.
I assume that Ms. Price, Ms. Bergan, Mr. Bassett, and/or the teacher will actually read material given to the School Committee member by the person reporting their concerns to them and hence to Ms. Price, and that they will not just "glance" at it, 'look' at it, or keep it in their possession unopened. If that is not the case, please let me know.
I understand that class materials are not withdrawn just because a parent complains about them. Instead, the material is reviewed and the three of you decide whether to remove it, modify it, or leave it as is. (I assume that if the material is used at Newton South High School, the same process applies but with a different principal and department chair). I would like confirmation that prior to any decision made all of those participating in the review will actually read any relevant information provided to them regarding the disputed material.
I understand that the book A Muslim Primer was, after discussion, deemed suitable for classroom use. The NPS did remove a footnote which stated that "the Catholic Church is reconsidering polygamy as a Christian option". Mr. Bassett told me in an email dated December 9, 2012 that teachers thought the footnote "might be misleading".
During the meeting, Ms Bergan said she did not read the report (though she did "glance" at it) because she did not know who wrote the report or what their "agenda" was. I suggested that because of the name of the organization which produced the report, Verity Educate, an independent research organization and registered non-profit, was on its cover (in five places, in fact), Ms. Bergan could easily obtain the name without having to open the report. I further suggested that the Internet and a search engine could help her find out more information about the Verity Educate, its founder, and its "agenda" if it has one. To my knowledge, its "agenda" is to ensure that materials used by K-12 students are as accurate and unbiased as possible.
Although it did not occur to me at the meeting, it might even be possible for Ms. Bergan or another administrator to contact Ms. Ellen Wald, Verity Educate's founder and Executive Director. Ms. Wald is a very pleasant person, as is Ms. Bergan, and I am sure that they will find that they share a common interest in having all students receive an appropriate, factual, non-biased education.
By the way, Ms. Wald has a Ph.D. from Boston University in the areas of Middle East history and foreign policy; her thesis was "The U.S., Great Britain, and the Middle-Eastern Oil Industry". She teaches at Jacksonville University, Florida and has held academic appointments at the University of Georgia, University of Wyoming, Boston University, and Cambridge University. She gives lectures throughout the U.S. about Middle East history and the oil industry.
With respect to the Verity Educate report, which states among other things that the NPS is using falsified versions of primary sources (the Hamas and PA charters), material derived from 1960's public relations brochures for an Arab oil company, and a class exercise presenting the destruction of Israel as a legitimate and accepted concept; neither Ms. Price, Ms. Bergan, nor Mr. Bassett had read the report. Ms. Bergan stated that she had "glanced" at it; Mr. Bassett said he had not read the report and did not intend to read it.
I understand that Ms. Bergan did not read the report because her mandate is to do only what the NPS School Committee tells her to do and no more. If the School Committee, in the form of one or more School Committee members, tells her to read the report she will do so; otherwise she will not..
When asked Mr. Bassett why he would not read the Verity Educate report, he mentioned an advertisement published in late October, 2013 by a group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), with which I have no affiliation. I told both Mr. Bassett and Ms. Price that I am not affiliated with APT and did not agree with their advertisement or tactics in email dated October 31, 2013.
Mr. Bassett stated that he is not conversant with all of the material teachers use in class and it is not his job to find out. He stated there is no need to query teachers about what materials are used because "we trust our teachers". Mr. Bassett does review class material throughout the year. My understanding is that most or all of the material he reviews is brought to him by teachers who are unsure to their suitability for a particular class. Mr. Bassett said it would take a great deal of time and effort to obtain class material from every history teacher, even if done electronically.
Finally, I would like to remind each if you - although I shouldn't have to - that I am not responsible for advertisements, letters, phone calls, or any other communication with or about the Newton Public Schools unless they are actually performed by me.
[I am not] responsible for the acts of other people who I do not know, have had nothing to do with, and have no influence over. Please note that if I communicate with any of you, my name will appear on or in the communication...I cannot tell you why someone I never heard of wrote something to you, or what s/he meant by it. I do not know people's actions in advance and have no special power to prevent them from doing things you do not like. If you have a problem with someone else's actions, you need to discuss it with them and not with me...The same also applies to public records requests and other legal actions. If you receive a letter or other document that is not signed by me and does not make reference to me, then it is not from me and I bear no responsibility for it.
If you have any questions about this letter or anything said herein, you may contact me at [redacted].
Very truly yours,