Parents and Students Withhold Objections to Anti-Israel Material Due to Fear of Retaliation
Students and parents openly state, at School Committee and community meetings, that they are afraid to voice their objections to anti-Israel and anti-semitic material because they believe they will experience retaliation by school administrators. This is not an idle fear; such retaliation has happened, very publicly, to a parent and student who voiced their concerns.
Retaliation for Objecting to anti-Israel Material
Student and Parent(s)
In 2014, a PENS member came forward about the retaliation she and her child experienced as a result of her work with PENS. She did not speak out before due to fear of additional retaliation and the need to spend her time and energy ameliorating the consequences of the Newton Public Schools' (NPS') retaliatory acts, which put her children at physical and emotional risk. For the reasons explained below, she needs to remain anonymous.
The retaliation occurred when School Committee member Matthew Hills transmitted a copy of a letter (the "Letter") to the newspaper Newton Tab ("the Tab") and website www.village14.com ("village14"). The Letter was a private and confidential communication lawfully exempt from release without parental permission.
The Letter contained information that is confidential under both Massachusetts and federal law, including the parent's name, her child's name, their address, and the fact that the parent had filed a Statement of Concern with the state education department regarding the NPS' review of class material. The Letter stated that so long as the NPS satisfied the procedural requirements for review - ie., so long that a review was conducted and recorded - the DESE would consider the statutory requirement for review to have been satisfied.
Village14 and the Tab published the confidential information and, in the case of village14, published the entire letter online. Both entities made false and defamatory accusations that the parent belonged to an anti-Muslim group, and that she held beliefs that she in fact finds repugnant.
The editors of both the Tab and village14 knew that the family had previously been stalked due to their pro-Israel activities and that police involvement was required. The publication of the child's name, parent's name, their address, information regarding the Statement of Concern, and false allegations placed their children at risk of physical and emotional harm, interfered with job prospects and social relationships, and caused great emotional stress.
Hills, a Harvard-educated MBA and investment fund manager, insisted that the letter was a "public record", despite the fact that the state education department website clearly states that such communications are confidential, despite having free access to NPS legal counsel who would tell him the same thing, and despite published advice from a Town Alderman who practices education law that the letter is in fact not a public record.
The co-publishers of village14, former education journalist Gail Spector and Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce President Greg Reibman, also claimed that the letter was "public record". Both Spector, who states she has special expertise in student confidentiality law, and Reibman, who adamantly declared his belief that 'maligning' the reputation of Newton schools would harm property values in "his" town, also disregarded legal advice as well as pleas from the student's family to remove the confidential information before their children came to harm at the hands of the stalker or another deranged person.
Spector and Reibman refused to remove the information, claiming that their actions were a result of the parent's objection to anti-Israel material used in her child's class. Pleas for help to Superintendent Fleishman, Mayor Warren, and School Committee members were ignored.
Eventually, the parents convinced the owner of the website platform on which the letter was published to remove it from public view. However, the confidential information and false allegations remain.
In 2014, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) (the state agency regulating public schools) found that the NPS's and Hill's acts were illegal. The only sanction the DESE imposed was to review the law Hills knowingly broke.
Despite numerous requests, neither Mayor Warren nor Superintendent Fleishman imposed any sanctions on Hills and refused to take any steps to alleviate the risks those illegal acts imposed on the family whose confidentiality was violated. Instead of protecting students under its care, the NPS knowingly put them at risk of harm.
Hills had strongly opposed the removal of the Notebook. He publicly admitted to committing retaliatory acts against the sixteen-year-old student. Neither Hills nor anyone else was sanctioned for these acts, nor has any other rehabilitative action taken place under Newton's new Mayor, Ruth Fuller.
Retaliation against Parent
In 2019, a report of retaliation against a parent came to our attention. A parent who queried school officials about anti-Israel material suddenly stopped receiving email announcements of events relating to her child. According to the reporter, this caused numerous problems in custody negotiations between the parent and her former spouse (also a parent) causing her financial loss and extreme worry. The parent does not want to be identified or speak to others about her experience. PENS is repecting her wish.