A Massachusetts state education department found that a school district and School Committee Chair retaliated against a student because of her parent’s complaint about inaccurate and biased materials.
The decision by the Massachusetts agency found that the Newton Public Schools (NPS) and School Committee Chair Matthew Hills sent confidential information about the student and her family to local media, which published it. The media entities – a newspaper and a blog – also published false claims that the parent was associated with anti-Muslim groups.
The student’s family said that both the newspaper and blog knew that the family had previously been stalked and that publishing the false allegations put them in danger. They also stated they suffered emotional distress and other harm due to the district’s actions.
Parents and education groups have accused the school of distributing inaccurate and anti-Israel material, resulting in the removal of several widely used resources. One resource, the Arab World Studies Notebook, has been been subject to intense criticism by education groups and removed from other school districts. The district also removed a website and whited out a textbook’s claim that the Catholic church was “reconsidering polygamy as a Christian option”.
Parents’ complaint are supported by organizations including the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, StandWithUs, and Zionist Organization of America.
Last September, the education research organization Verity Educate issued a report on materials used in NPS history classes. The report found numerous inaccurate and deceptive material, including altered primary source documents. It also found substantial anti-Israel bias, including material described as ‘neutral’ which had been prepared by anti-Israel activists.
The district denies that any bias or inaccuracies exist. Officials also told parents that they would ‘never’ read the report issued by Verity Educate or any other organization and that parents upset about deceptive or racist class material “should find another school for their children”.
“The retaliation by school officials against a child because of a parent’s legitimate complaints about biased and deceptive class materials is outrageous”, said Evan Jacobi, president of the group Parents for Excellence in Newton Schools (PENS). “Their goal is to further intimidate parents who object to their children being told that biased and grossly inaccurate material is true.”
Hills was also found to have violated state Open Meeting law several times in 2014 in an attempt to cover up a plagarized speech given by Newton Superintendent David Fleishman, and advised Fleishman and others to violate state and federal law by withholding documents from responses to public records requests. No sanctions have been imposed on Hills for these violations.