“Quaker Education”: A Rare Peek Behind the Curtain

A Long Read for a Holiday Weekend

Those who are still curious about the notorious (in many Quaker circles) case of two teachers at the Friends Central School in Philadelphia (described in earlier posts here,  here,  here & here), who were fired after inviting a Palestinian scholar to speak there, now have a chance to lift the curtain (at least somewhat) on it.

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Schwartz.

Although the teachers, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, were fired a year ago, the case popped up again in local media earlier this month after the two filed a federal lawsuit on May 7. They charged the school’s head and other authorities with six counts of discrimination, retaliation and defamation, and demanded hefty damages.

The lawsuit filing also described the initial incident that led to their suspension and then firing, with details well beyond what has appeared in earlier media reports. 

Besides the charges  of discrimination and defamation, the filing also raises questions about how actual governance in a “Quaker” school can vary from stated values; and how actual educational practice can clash with stated pedagogical values and policies.

Such a lifting of the curtain, while admittedly partial, is rare. And the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, is an articulate and aggressive advocate. (He’s also had two sons graduate from FCS, and could be characterized as a highly ticked off parent.)

Most civil lawsuits are either settled without trial or thrown out. Of those that are settled, a great many include nondisclosure agreements, forbidding the parties from talking about the outcome.

So to get much information about such lawsuits beyond the skimpy data included in most press accounts, a curious reader had best turn to original documents. 

Of course, court filings can quickly become voluminous, with stacks of depositions, reams of barely relevant paperwork from discovery, and so forth. Besides the time involved to read and assess them, there are often charges to get copies.

This post offers an alternative; extensive excerpts from the original lawsuit filing. The suit was filed in the federal  court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The filing can be read in full (sixty-plus pages) at a website connected to it. (Here’s the link: be advised it requires opening an account  & a trial subscription.)

A second advice: keep in mind this filing presents the views and allegations by one side in this dispute. I’m interested in hearing both sides, so I submitted the excerpts with a statement of my intentions to the Defendants, with a request for comment, by a deadline today. The only response from FCS was a referral  to their attorney, David Fryman, who is a partner in a large firm and specializes in employment cases; he did not respond either. And I’m not going to wait.

The Defendants’ silence is not surprising. That is, after all, their goal; if they settle, silence is what they will be buying. But from the information here, partisan though it may be, one can still learn much, and make more informed judgments.

NOTE: Some Commentary will be included here, but it will be marked as such and in bold red. All other text is directly from the lawsuit filing. (And yes, the paragraphs in the filing are numbered, and I skipped some.)

1. Schools are supposed to beacons of tolerance for the free expression of competing ideas, such that students can grow. In this case however, the absolute tragedy is that a school which professes to operate according to the fundamental Quaker principles of tolerance has proven to [be] intolerant where the administration and Board maintain an illegal atmosphere depriving two teachers of their civil rights.

What is more the administration and Board have scapegoated Plaintiffs for what was caused as a result of their own inconsistent and intolerant practices when it came to the school’s invitation and then dis-invitation of Swarthmore College professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, Sa’ ed Atshan, Ph.D., himself a devout Quaker. Defendants then deliberately proceeded to defame them and harm their reputations.

NATURE OF THIS ACTION

Ariel Christina Eure
Layla Halwa

2. In this action, Plaintiffs Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa were wrongfully suspended and then discharged from their jobs as upper school teachers at the Friends’ Central School Corp. (“FCS”). They seek to recover damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, (“Title VII”), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, P.S. Sections 951 et seq, and invoke other Pennsylvania legal protections providing relief for the common law torts of “negligent supervision”, ” retaliation” as a result of their invoking their rights, as well as the torts of “defamation”  and having been placed in a “false light” by FCS School Head Craig Sellers (“Sellers”) and Board of Trustees Clerk (head) Phillip Scott and other presently unnamed Board Members (the “John and Jane Does”. This Complaint also possesses a claim against the school for “negligent supervention and retention” of Defendant Sellers.

These claims are a direct as a result of Defendants’ unlawful employment practices, consisting of the maintenance of an illegal discriminatory working environment and discrimination against Plaintiffs due to their race, color, sex and religion. This discrimination extended to the terms and conditions of their employment, including job conditions, benefits and job advancement, ultimately resulting in their firing. Furthermore, Plaintiffs have been retaliated against, as a result of their filing charges with the EEOC and their advocacy for equal treatment of protected categories under applicable law, by first being suspended and ultimately being fired for that advocacy, contrary to Defendants false and pretextual assertions of being an educational institution adhering to Quaker values.

To date, Plaintiffs have never been given a clear or consistent explanation regarding the reasons for their suspension and firing. The real reason was to deflect from the misdeeds of Defendants. This was all done by Defendants FCS and Sellers in deliberate contrast to the school’s professed values and its treatment of other employees. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as back pay, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages where appropriate together with attorneys’ fees, and the costs and expenses of this suit to redress the effects of FCS’s pervasive discriminatory employment policies, practices and procedures.

13. FCS’ website contains that following description of “Our Philosophy,” upon which Plaintiffs have relied:

Since its establishment in 1845 by the Religious Society of Friends, Friends’ Central School, a coeducational, college -preparatory day school for students in nursery through grade 12 has been guided by the Quaker testimonies of simplicity , peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. Underlying all facets of School life is the belief that “there is that of God in everyone.” . . .

COMMENT: While the next section is neither a legally binding statement, nor even a formal FCS “policy,” it is perhaps the most damning affirmation in all the texts associated with this case. Few actions could contradict this FCS “philosophy” more fundamentally and completely than what happened in this case. It demonstrates the very opposite of  encouragement for “intellectual courage,” “critical thinking” and “respect” for “diversity” of thought. For shame, for shame.

Friends’ Central offers rigorous and varied educational experiences in academics, the arts, and athletics, helping our students realize their potential and achieve on the highest level possible. We encourage trial and error, critical thinking and questioning, and intellectual courage in all areas of our curriculum. . . .

We intentionally seek a wide spectrum of diversity in our School community. We respect unreservedly that diversity and strive to enhance and support it. Diversity influences how we teach, learn, and communicate. It enriches the community and furthers understanding that each human life is intrinsically valuable and interrelated, one with another. . . .

16. Prior to their suspensions, Plaintiffs received only positive feedback about their job performance. They were never disciplined. For example, Plaintiff Eure’ s letter contract with FCS for 2016/2017 was signed by Defendant Sellers with his annotation “You bring so much Light to FCS in so many dimensions, Ariel. Thank you for all you do. I look forward to another great year! Craig”.

Defendant Craig Sellers, Head of School, FCS

A revised contract contained the annotation “Thank you, Ariel, for all you do. Onward to exciting chapters ahead. Craig. . . .” Similarly, Defendant Sellers wrote on Plaintiff Helwa’ s contract: “Thank you for all that you do, Layla, to bring such caring warmth and light to our school. You are wonderful!”

17. On May 4, 2016, three students asked to meet with Plaintiffs about a “potential equal rights club.” What came to be known as “Peace and Equality for Palestine” was started by a Jewish student and two non-Jewish students, with Plaintiffs subsequently assuming the role of advisors to this club. Thanks primarily to Defendant Sellers, Plaintiffs experienced anything but an “exciting” chapter, instead being subjected to repeated instances of intolerance and outright discrimination from defendants who maintained an illegal working environment antithetical to the Quaker principles and contrary to applicable civil rights laws, all of which has damaged them and promises to continue to do so for the rest of their personal and professional careers. In pursuing new jobs Plaintiffs continually have to explain what she should not have to explain.

18. From the club’ s inception, what should have been viewed as a promising opportunity for dialogue, instead brought Defendants’ hate and intolerance to the surface. The Jewish student founder was called a “self-hating Jew” by other students. A Muslim member was called a “terrorist”. Those who promoted hatred were neither investigated nor disciplined by FCS. Instead, those who promoted tolerance were suspended and ultimately fired.

19. The club was continually hindered by Defendant Sellers and his administration, frustrating the club’ s very existence. A “Mission Statement” for the club was edited and then approved by Upper School Principal Art Hall who insisted that the phrases “occupation” and “culture of silence” be removed. The Mission Statement was posted and then taken down. Not only did the administration refuse to allow the club to participate in a student club fair, it then subjected it to preconditions that other clubs did not have to meet. It had to be referred to as an “unofficial club” that could not advertise or meet publicly. At one point Mr. Hall subsequently came to a meeting to apologize to club leaders for all of the obstruction. Although he promised that an apology would be forthcoming, an apology never came. Eventually a precondition was set and relayed by Mr. Hall that if the club wished to become official, it would need a speaker.

Arthur Hall, former Principal, FCS Upper School.

20. Given Plaintiff Helwa’s time spent at Swarthmore College, a fellow classmate recommended Swarthmore College Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Sa’ ed Atshan, Ph.D. as a possible club speaker. Plaintiff Layla Helwa then proposed to the FCS administration that the speaker be Professor Atshan himself an active Quaker. He is a product of Quaker education at Ramallah Friends School, Westtown School, and Swarthmore College, before securing an MA, MPP and PhD at Harvard. Known as a moderate who advocates discussion, as opposed to armed conflict, Professor Atshan has been and remains a desired speaker at major educational institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Club leaders were consulted by Plaintiffs and they agreed that Swarthmore Professor Sa’ed Atshan would be an excellent choice. Speaking for the administration, Upper School Head Hall commended the choice as well, allowing Plaintiff Ariel Eure to publicize the speaker in the morning announcement.

COMMENT: While Arthur Hall is not a party to the lawsuit, his role here and subsequently suggests a significant subplot in this story. He is recorded as having made favorable comments about the new club, having apologized informally for the obstruction it encountered, and having heartily approved of the invitation to Sa’ed Atshan. Given the uproar over the invitation, were these actions going to go unnoticed?

21. The FCS administration not only approved the selection of Professor Atshan but approved the processing of a $400 honorarium for him. Upper School Principal Art Hall further commented that it would not be possible to find anyone more acceptable. He approved Plaintiff Eure’s request for an announcement for publication.

22. By an email of December 7, 2016, Professor Atshan was notified by Plaintiffs of the FCS approved invitation to come to campus at a date to be determined within the next two months. Plaintiffs’ email also noted the following: “Since the formation of our group, there have been a number of concerns expressed by students, parents, and faculty members. Discussions around Palestine, and often even referring to Palestine at all, are often avoided or deemed to be anti-Semitic both in and outside of the classroom. Despite significant pushback, the school administration is supportive of the group and feels it aligns with our Quaker mission and values.” Within hours Professor Atshan replied: “Thanks so much for this message and invitation. I am deeply honored. I am used to handling these situations in a sensitive and nuanced manner. I have a lot of respect for Friends Central and would love to speak there in the next two months.”

23. A date for the talk was chosen; Friday, February 10, 2017.

25. On Monday, February 6, 2017 announcements of Professor Atshan’s Friday talk were posted, and a morning announcement of the talk was read during homeroom. Upper School Principal Hall checked in with Plaintiff Eure to inform her that one parent had called with concerns but that the call seemed to go well.

26. That same day at 3:44 p.m., Mr. Hall sent Plaintiffs the following email captioned “A new development around Friday”, containing the following content: “Ariel & Layla: I need to speak with you about Friday’s invited guest. I do not want to divulge too much in an email, so I will catch up with you both tomorrow, if l don’t see you later today.”

27. Within 30 minutes of the receipt of above-referenced email, Plaintiff Eure spoke with Mr. Hall and was told that a number of parents had voiced their opposition to Professor Atshan’s speaking at FCS. Mr. Hall instructed them to cancel the speaker. At the same time, as part of his plan to divest himself of any responsibility, he branded the action as being “not fair and not right.” He assured Plaintiffs that he had told Defendant Sellers that Plaintiffs had been acting appropriately. At the same time, he said that he could not let the speech happen. Mr. Hall specifically left it to Plaintiffs to contact Professor Atshan and notify him of the administration’s decision.

28. On Tuesday February 7, Plaintiffs informed the club members of the decision to cancel Professor Atshan’s speech. The students revealed to Plaintiffs that they intended to walk out of Meeting for Worship the following day. This information was, in turn, relayed by Plaintiffs to the FCS administration. Mr. Hall specifically signified his approval of the action, as long as it was done in the spirit of Meeting for Worship, saying that it was not fair and not right for there not to have dialogue.

29. On February 8, 2017, at 9:11 a.m., Plaintiff Eure emailed Professor Atshan to notify him of the cancellation stating in part as follows: ” …. I write to you to share some frustrating and disappointing news. Within hours of the announcement being posted, prominent families began contacting our administration and the Board of Trustees and implied that by bringing you to campus the school was supporting the BDS movement. As a result, the school has now asked that we cancel the event. Despite our efforts over the last two days, and the administration’s recognition that the decision to cancel the event contradicts with its Quaker values, the administration is now refusing to uphold the agreement we originally made.. ..” Professor Atshan’s subsequent communication again stressed his Quaker background and history, all to no avail. On that same day ,

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor.

31. In the afternoon of Wednesday, February 8, Plaintiffs were called into a meeting by Mr. [Art] Hall [Head of the FCS Upper school] and Assistant Head of School Mariama Richards. Ms. Richards has also purportedly been the school’s Diversity Officer. Plaintiff Eure shared with them that the students were planning an open discussion or teach-in for Friday when Professor Atshan was originally scheduled to speak. Mr. Hall and Ms. Richards suggested to Plaintiffs that they not attend for their own protection emphasizing that “it would be bad for you.” Further they belittled Plaintiffs’ minority status by saying that they knew the private school world better than Plaintiffs and that “as teachers of color, you need to trust us.” Consistent with what they were allowed to do in the past, Plaintiffs responded that they would go as students had specifically invited them. Plaintiffs’ viewed this as a teaching moment about non-violence in a Quaker institution. Mr. Hall and Ms. Richards never instructed Plaintiffs not to attend the meeting. What did take place was another clear abdication of any responsibility by Upper School Head Hall, who told Plaintiffs “if you threaten my ability to provide for my family, it’s not going to be good.” Plaintiffs were on their own.

COMMENT: “If you threaten my ability to provide for my family . . . .” This comment by Hall is striking. The clear inference is that his job too was now somehow at risk in connection with the aborted invitation. My suspicion is that there was blowback, not simply against the Atshan invitation, but against him for the encouraging comments he had made to the Plaintiffs about the club, and the Atshan invitation. He had, after all, approved it. There is more to this . . .

32. During the late evening of February 8, 2017, Professor Atshan sent an extensive email to Defendant [Head of School Craig] Sellers pleading for his talk to be reinstated. This email included a telling comment characterizing the discriminatory atmosphere at FCS:

“At a time when we, as LGBTQ people of color, are experiencing increased vulnerability, threats, bullying, and silencing in the United States under Trump, I would not have expected to be silenced by a Quaker institution of all places, especially since I am a proud product of Quaker education, from Ramallah Friends through Swarthmore.” The email concludes with “I would have loved to contribute to your students;’ interest in furthering their social and global consciousness in accordance with Quaker values. I hope that one day Friends Central will be a welcoming place to Palestinians and Israelis of conscience. I have faith that this is possible.”

33. On Thursday, February 9, 2017 FCS, was officially closed due to snow. Nonetheless, Ms. Richards tried to reach Plaintiffs. . . . The resulting email from Ms. Richards exemplified the FCS administration’s patronizing disdain for fundamental Quaker values of free speech as well as FCS students. Ms. Richards emailed Plaintiffs on February 9 stating that “Craig [Sellers], Art [Hall] and I are trying to find a way forward.” She goes on to state “I maintain that although the students have opinions and need that space, I wonder if they have all of the skills to support a balanced conversation given the heated moment.” Of course, the “heated moment” arose entirely as a result of Defendants’ actions. Given that the Defendants and FCS administration cancelled the talk in the fashion that they did with the attendant fallout, the inability to support a balanced conversation rested with solely with Defendants, not the students.

34. . . . Consistent with his previously stated concern for himself, Mr. Hall became emotionally choked up with self-pity, saying that the students did not know how hard it was for him. (1-1-p.1)

37. On Sunday February 12, Plaintiffs and faculty received two unusual emails. The entire faculty, including Plaintiffs, received an email from Mr. Hall asking them to arrive early Monday morning at 7:30a.m. for a faculty meeting. Immediately thereafter, Plaintiffs received a second email from Ms. Richards asking them to meet with Defendant Sellers individually, away from campus at the Llanerch Diner, at staggered times of 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. respectively, on that very same Monday morning.

38. Plaintiffs arrived early at the diner for their meeting and met with their  lawyer. . . . Defendant Sellers refused to allow Plaintiffs’ lawyer to be present. Immediately after he dismissed their lawyer, Defendant Sellers informed Plaintiffs that they were now on administrative leave. [FCS Director of Finance and Operations Miriam Fisher Schaefer, who was also present] stated that this was effective immediately, insisting that they turn in their iPads, Chromebooks and keys. She informed them that their email had been shut off and that they were no longer allowed to perform any FCS work. Making a mockery of Quaker practice, Defendant Sellers then said that he hoped to “move forward in a loving compassionate way and to hold each other “in the light.” The most that was offered by way of explanation for their suspension was the convoluted contention that Plaintiffs “had taken a single-minded approach to a complicated issue for the community.”

43. On February 16, 2017, Plaintiffs’ counsel received a telephone call from Margaret A. McCausland, Esquire, who described herself as a “neutral” or “impartial” investigator appointed to investigate the circumstances attendant to Plaintiffs’ suspension. As it turned out, Defendant Sellers, the FCS Board, and attorney David Fryman of [the law firm] Ballard Spahr, had turned Plaintiffs’ request for an investigation of Defendant Sellers on its head, deciding instead to prosecute Plaintiffs and delegate Board responsibility to [Ms. McCausland] the hand-picked choice of Mr. Fryman, who proved to be anything but “independent” and “impartial”. Plaintiffs had no input into her selection and found her self-serving description of impartiality to be hypocritical, at best. Ms. McCausland came to freely admit that she defends employment-related lawsuits. When it came to her “investigations”, she admitted that she has always been hired and paid by the accused employer, not employees. Despite her investigating what happened at a Quaker school, Ms. McCausland proved to be woefully ignorant of fundamental Quaker precepts.

Plaintiffs were interviewed by Ms. McCausland and their testimony was in accordance with the representations made in this lawsuit. Further, Plaintiff Ariel Eure told Ms. McCausland that other FCS employees had violated procedures and directives and were never punished. Plaintiffs’ counsel repeatedly objected to the manner in which Ms. Ms. McCausland conducted her purposefully unrecorded inquisition. At no time were Plaintiffs able to call witnesses or confront their accusers. Ms. McCausland submitted her report which was bought, paid for, and only communicated to Defendant FCS. Plaintiffs were refused a copy. To this day, Plaintiffs have no knowledge of the contents of this report.

46. In the ensuing weeks a “task force” was commissioned, supposedly in the short term to facilitate and create programming on Israel and Palestine, and in the long-term to develop a framework to deal with sensitive issues. True to form, Defendant Sellers controlled and manipulated the process, as written guidelines for the faculty panel of the task force specifically forbade them from discussing the handling of the club, the choice of speaker, and discussing anything about Plaintiffs. They were only to discuss a process for selecting appropriate guest speakers. Although the faculty panel was supposed to have three meetings, after only two meetings, the task force announced that its work was complete. Teachers were very much excluded from deliberations in what proved to be merely window-dressing.

In the words of one teacher, in a letter addressed to the Board:

Most importantly however, is Mr. Sellers poor modeling of Quaker values. Quakerism teaches us that truth is always revealing itself, and we allow this to take place by having open discussion prior to making decisions, especially with those affected by the decisions. In all our dealings, however, Mr. Sellers’ opaque and top-down approach places constraints on open discussion about problems and conflicts. Time and again, he frames questions to shape the answers people can give rather than allowing for a truly open-ended discussion. He makes his decisions without leaving them open to interrogation or query by the faculty or students. This is not the Quaker way and it does not model a way of being in the world that questions truth and power- the real strength of a Quaker education.

48. On February 9, 2017 Defendant Sellers sent a “Message from the Head of School to Upper School Families” taking credit for having “transformed our usual weekly Meeting for Worship into a Meeting for Sharing”.

In pertinent part, he labeled as “facts” the following:

* We have students on campus who wish to learn more about the Middle East and are interested in the possibility of peaceful activism.

* Teachers identified a college professor who they hoped would be a more helpful resource and educator.

* This professor was invited to come to our City Avenue campus to speak to interested Upper School students.

* It emerged that the professor selected raised concerns for some members of our community.

* In the interest of moving forward in a productive, community-oriented way, I have decided to pause on having any speaker at this time.

* We are focused on identifying a way forward that serves our student community more broadly.

49. What followed on February 10, 2017 was another public “Message” from Defendant Sellers to Upper School Families stressing the need for communication and announcing his convening a task force to shape an educational forum. Ignoring his own discriminatory conduct, Defendant Sellers states that:

Our School simply has no place for any kind of disrespectful conduct that stereotypes, leaves anyone feeling unsafe or threatened, or leaves anyone feeling ‘less than’ . The way forward is to insist on respectful, engaged dialogue from every comer of our community.

50. Upon information and belief, Defendant Sellers released a public statement sometime on or about February 13, 2017 claiming, in part, the following:

As a Quaker school, we have long-standing expectations of all members of our community-especially for our teachers, who have the responsibility of guiding young minds. There are very real concerns about the conduct of Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa for their disregard of our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace and integrity. As of today, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa are on indefinite paid administrative leave while a more extensive review is conducted.

This malicious language defamed Plaintiffs and placed them in a false light, specifically stating that they lacked integrity and suggesting that they behaved in a rogue, violent and/or corrupt or immoral fashion. Plaintiffs can and will present witness testimony as to this communication , which was widely disseminated and appeared in the media, before being taken down from the FCS website.

Defendant Philip E. Scott, Clerk of FCS Trustees

53. After matters gained further attention in the media and Plaintiffs counsel attempted to settle this matter, Defendant Board Clerk Philip Scott on February 20, 2017 publicly mischaracterized what had transpired as a “pause”. In addition, he stated that “The teachers being placed on paid leave is not connected to the decision to invite the speaker. The decision to place them on paid leave was because the two teachers failed to follow explicit directives, and their stated intentions going forward. To say anything more would be inappropriate given that this is a personnel matter still under review and consideration.”

Upon information and belief, Defendant Sellers caused Mr. Scott to parrot and publish the same defamatory language concerning Plaintiffs as in the communication cited previously herein. Furthermore, any genuine concern for confidentiality of “personnel matters” would have prevented any statements being made whatsoever pertaining to Plaintiffs. Mr. Scott’s Message ended with the “entirety of what Friends Central received from the lawyer for Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa”:

NON-CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION

What follows is my clients settlement demand. It is good through noon on Monday and then should be considered withdrawn:

I . My clients be allowed to return to their jobs on campus

2. My clients be extended an apology from the school.

3. My clients expenses incurred be paid by the school.

4. Professor Atshan be extended an apology from the school.

5. Professor Atshan be extended an invitation to speak at the school.

Again, this will be withdrawn as of noon on Monday.

In fact, Defendant Scott [Clerk of FCS Trustees] made these announcements during an all school “in service day” in which he read the settlement conditions and explained that school leadership would not be bullied. At this meeting, and other meeting prior thereto, a host of faculty members voiced concern about the decision to “pause” Professor Atshan’s visit, about dealing so harshly with Plaintiffs, and to failing to uphold Quaker values especially those pertaining to diversity, inclusion and Quaker process. In depicting outright racial bias, the FCS administration bizarrely accused the faculty of being insensitive to the needs of students of color, subsequently launching a series of meetings devoted to diversity training, led by Ms. Mariama Richards. This “diversity training” has proceeded into the current school year and constitutes an admission by the FCS administration of an intolerant environment constituting a violation of applicable civil rights laws, that Plaintiffs had previously criticized.

56. After Defendants received the McCausland report they bought and paid for from their hand-picked “independent ” investigator, Defendant FCS, via its Board Clerk[Philip E. Scott] published the following on April 7, 2017:

Dear Friends:

I am writing to update you on a complex personnel matter that has been unfolding at Friends’ Central School. While we strive to maintain the confidentiality of personnel matters, we nonetheless appreciate the continued desire for information.

The independent investigation into Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa’ s allegations of discrimination and harassment has been completed. The investigation, conducted by an independent third party, did not substantiate those claims.

The conclusion of this process opens the way for Friends’ Central to address the teachers ‘ employment status. That process will remain confidential.

57. As referenced hereinbefore, Plaintiffs, pursuant to the FCS Handbook filed a harassment claim against Defendant Sellers with the Board, which wholly abdicated its responsibilities. Mr. Scott’ s words further blackened Plaintiffs’ reputations as his carefully chosen language makes the “complex personnel matter” a problem with Plaintiffs, not Defendant Sellers. Pains are taken to refer to an “independent investigation” which was anything but. The last sentence of the above-paragraph [in Sellers’ letter] simply pushes Plaintiffs towards the guillotine, maliciously and capriciously invoking confidentiality on a process which from the beginning was anything but confidential. If there were any true concern with confidentiality, there would have been no release or comment whatsoever.

58. On May 9, 2017, Defendant Sellers sent identical job termination letters to Plaintiffs headed “Personal and Confidential” together with a proposed “Severance Agreement and General Release of Claims” which Plaintiffs have refused to sign. The May 9, 2017 correspondence gave no reason for Plaintiffs’ termination.

59. Empty “Confidentiality” concerns are repeatedly invoked and then ignored by Defendants in their campaign to malign Plaintiffs. Witness another written public pronouncement made by Defendant Sellers on the very same day, May 9, 2017 announcing Plaintiffs’ termination, beginning with the words “Dear Friends” and then the following:

As you know, Upper School teachers Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa were placed on paid administrative leave earlier this year.

After a deliberate and thoughtful Quaker decision-making process, considering each teacher individually, we have decided that they will not be returning to Friends’ Central. Further details about this matter will remain confidential.

We are meeting with Upper School students this afternoon to let them know of this decision. We understand that the news may be upsetting to some; members of the support services team will attend this student meeting and will be available.

Please contact your division principal, Dean of Students, school counselor Frederick Pratt, or me if your child is in need of support.

Academic excellence, attention to individual students, opportunities for leadership, and Quaker values have and will continue to be hall marks of a Friends’ Central education .

I appreciate and look forward to partnering with all of you in educating your children.

Sincerely,

Craig N. Sellers.

COMMENT: While it is not mentioned here, at the same time that plaintiffs Eure and Halwa were being terminated, Upper School Principal Arthur Hall left his post as well. Was he pushed out, taking the inside fall for the Atshan fiasco? Or had he perhaps managed to turn the incident into the basis for a promotion: he is now Assistant Head of School & Dean of Student Life at the Tower Hill School of Wilmington, Delaware. Tower Hill has a number of high-ranking Delaware politicians as its alumni, and claims to be among the 50 top-rated private schools in the U. S. His departure from FCS may have been unexpected: his replacement, a year later, is still listed as an “Interim” Principal for the FCS Upper School.

60. Of course, nothing in terms of “deliberate and thoughtful Quaker decision-making” ever took place. In fact, what occurred was quite the opposite. Plaintiffs were further impugned by the language of the fourth paragraph of the above communication indicating that Plaintiffs had departed from “academic excellence, attention to individual students.. .. Leadership, and Quaker values.” Clearly, Defendants need for confidentiality only applied to their suppressing information regarding their own culpability, not when it came to defaming Plaintiffs and placing them in a false light, all of which has damaged their reputations and their professional future. If Defendants had truly felt the need for confidentialit y this announcement would never have been made. When it came to “counseling and support” for students, upon information and belief, Defendant Sellers’ behavior provided neither. For example, when a student left a note for Defendant Sellers indicating that he/she wanted to deliver a student petition to him in support of Plaintiffs, he/she was pulled out of class to meet with Defendant Sellers and a school counselor. Upon information and belief, they called him/her mentally unstable, thereby clouding  the student’ s record and jeopardizing his/her future. While the student’s parent was livid, that parent feared that further damage would be inflicted by Defendant Sellers upon the student.

61. Inexplicably, on the same day that Plaintiffs were fired, Defendants disingenuously re-invited Professor Atshan to speak at campus, indicating that a future date would be announced. In an email of May 15, 2017, Professor Atshan declined the invitation and reiterated that he would be happy to speak if the teachers were re-hired. While Professor Atshan has not been afforded the privilege of speaking at FCS, since May of 2017 he has spoken at over 20 academic institutions including Harvard University, Columbia, Haverford College, George Washington University, Brown Universi ty, University of New Mexico, and University of Pennsylvania.

70. Naturally one would wonder about the faculty’ s response to Defendants’ behavior in this case. However, Defendant Sellers has taken deliberate actions to isolate the faculty from the Board. Early on in his administration, he took steps to exclude faculty representatives from board meetings, appointing himself as liaison between the trustees and the employees of the school. Defendant Sellers also eliminated any checks and balances with respect to administration and faculty committees which would otherwise hold him accountable. It is noteworthy that no trustees attended the faculty/staff meeting for sharing held after the disinvitation of Professor Atshan. Despite the much heralded yet underwhelming task force, faculty and staff advisors to the task force received explicit directives not to discuss administration behavior. Despite pleas to the Board of Directors, the Board repeatedly failed to assert itself and neglected its responsibilities when it comes to supervising and holding Defendant Sellers accountable, generally, and specifically with respect to his actions taken against Plaintiffs. Discovery promises to reveal the extent to which Defendant Sellers communicated with the Board beforehand, about his dealings with Plaintiffs.

71. What has been set forth hereinbefore with respect to Plaintiffs’ suspension and firing is not only entirely at odds with basic tenets of Quaker education, but also with the 2016- 2017 Employee Handbook issued by the Board of Trustees listing Phillip E. Scott as Chair, or Clerk. Pertinent portions are quoted as follows:

Our Mission: We cultivate the intellectual , spiritual, and ethical promise of our students.

Our Vision: To awaken courage and intellect- and peacefully transform the world. (Cover page)

Under the heading “The FRIENDS CENTRAL SCHOOL PHILOSOPHY”, in addition to claiming to be “guided by the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship ,” the Handbook emphasizes the following:

We intentionally seek a wide spectrum of diversity in our School community. We respect unreservedly that diversity and strive to enhance and support it. Diversity influences how we teach, learn, and communicate. It enriches the community and furthers understanding that each human life is intrinsically valuable and interrelated, one with another. . . .

COUNTS

COUNT 1: VIOLATION OF TITLE VII THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, AS AMENDED, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq, DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, SEX (including sexual orientation), RELIGION, MAINTENANCE OF A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT and RETALIATION

Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa vs. Friends’ Central School Corp.

COUNT 2: VIOLATION OF TITLE VII OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, AS AMENDED . . .  POST EMPLOYMENT RETALIATION

Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa vs. Friends’ Central School Corp.

COUNT 3: VIOLATION OF THE PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS ACT, DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, SEX (including sexual orientation), RELIGION, MAINTENANCE OF A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT and RETALIATION

Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa vs. Friends’ Central School Corp.

COUNT 4: DEFAMATION 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8341-8345

Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa vs. Friends’ Central School Corp. Craig Sellers, Phillip Scott and John Doe and Jane Doe #’s 1-29

Count 5: FALSE LIGHT

Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa vs. Friends’ Central School Corp. Craig Sellers, Phillip Scott and John Doe and Jane Doe #’s 1-29

Count 6: NEGLIGENT SUPERVISION

Ariel Christina Eure and Layla Helwa vs. Friends’ Central School Corp. Phillip Scott and John Doe and Jane Doe #’s 1-29

RELIEF REQUESTED

128. This civil action seeks on behalf of Plaintiffs, legal and equitable relief including:

a. A declaratory judgment declaring that Defendant Friends’ Central School Corp. has illegally discriminated against Plaintiff under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

b. An appropriate remedial order, granting injunctive relief, directing and requiring the following:

1. Appointment of a civil rights monitor or trustee over Defendant FCS’ operations, fully empowered to implement any injunctive relief issued by this Court, to oversee any and all employment practices until such time as Defendant FCS no longer discriminates against its employees.

11. An immediate ban on any use of any discriminatory activities of the type described hereinbefore.

m. Such other remedial action as is needed to enforce compliance with all relevant standards of non-discrimination and non-retaliation on the basis of race, color, sex (including sexual orientation), and religion.

v. In lieu of reinstatement of seniority and benefits with back and front pay for Plaintiffs, the provision of sufficient monetary sums to cover the same, and payment of such other compensatory damages, together with attorney’s fees and the costs of suit, to Plaintiffs in excess of $150,000, in an amount to be determined at trial for each of her Federal and State civil rights counts set forth hereinbefore at Counts I and III.

v1. Payment of general damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages (if applicable), together with attorney’s fees and the costs of suit to Plaintiffs for their harm suffered as a result of their post-employment retaliati on count set forth hereinbefore as Count II.

vn. Payment of general damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, together with attorney’s fees and the costs of suit to Plaintiffs for their harm suffered as a result of their defamation count set forth hereinbefore as Count IV.

vm. Payment of general damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, together with attorney’s fees and the costs of suit to Plaintiffs for their harm suffered as a result of their false light count set forth hereinbefore as Count V.

1x. Payment of general damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, together with attorney’ s fees and the costs of suit to Plaintiffs for their harm suffered as a result of their negligent supervision count set forth hereinbefore as Count VI.

x. Such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.

x1. Retention of jurisdiction by this Court until such time as the Court is satisfied that Defendants have remedied the practices complained of herein and are determined to be in full compliance with the law.

JURY DEMAND

The Plaintiff demands trial by jury of all issues triable of right to a jury.

COMMENT: Maybe at trial, the defendants could make a compelling case on their own behalf that they decline to even hint at now. But I wonder. How would they cope with, among other humiliating lines of questioning, explaining how trashing the Atshan invitation, then firing Eure and Halwa, in any way showed “intellectual courage”? Or could they untangle their selective, convoluted and transparently self-serving versions of “confidentiality”? While I’m no lawyer, my reading of this initial filing strongly suggests the lawsuit is neither frivolous nor insubstantial. My guess is that the defendants will hope to find some way to get it dismissed, or failing that, will swallow hard & dig deep to purchase the stifling blanket of silence a settlement could throw over it. Then they could begin the task of rebuilding their and their school’s reputations. I expect that will be a long, uphill slog.

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15 thoughts on ““Quaker Education”: A Rare Peek Behind the Curtain”

  1. Thank you, Chuck, for this report. It is a fascinating job of reporting. Sad that the “Defendants” won’t share information with you.

    I am not surprised by any of this. My experience with Quaker Organizations is that though they begin with high ideals, the realities of the marketplace soon finds that “the Devil is in the Details.” Follow the Money and it all becomes clear.

    In my case, our son, who is a licensed English teacher and who was raised and still considers himself a Quaker, sought employment as a teacher at our local “Friends School”. He came to us beaming with joy as he had just been told that he would be teaching drama to the middle school students.

    His whole life had trained him to do exactly what the school said they were looking for. Imagine his shock, a month or so later during summer break, when he sadly told us that the offer had been withdrawn without any explanation.

    I went to the website and noticed that the new teacher for that position was a man who had worked in a Christian Church school setting teaching drama for 10 years. They must have found him after they offered the position to our son and decided their word was not important.

    Perhaps the problem is not the schools but that they are known as “Quaker Schools”. I found out that to be a Quaker School all you need is a board that is over 50% Quakers. Another example of bait and switch (a marketing term) by a Friends School

    I received a call from a F/friend who had moved to Baltimore and whose daughter was attending a “Friends School”. Her dad called me and asked why her school was being closed for the Jewish holy days? “I thought Quakers didn’t celebrate holidays”?” he said. When asked whether there were many Jewish students at the school. He said “Yes, there are.” Sadly, I had to tell him to “follow the money”. The school surely had to listen to the parents whose tuition was needed to keep the school open. As there are not enough Quaker families to do that somehow they attracted Jewish people’s children and so grew to depend on Jewish families to enrolled their children.

    I don’t know how long this has been going on, but we should remember that these schools are businesses. You, Chuck, know better than most Friends how poorly “Quaker Organizations” deal with conflict. No surprise that the Board of the school you wrote about didn’t have much of a say.

    Perhaps the problem is that “Quaker Schools” are pretending to be “Quaker”, when you would be hard pressed to find many Quakers in their population. Does just having a majority of Quakers on the board make it Quaker? Why Quakers do not even VOTE in our meeting for business.

    Please expand your story to include the farce that we have “Quaker Schools”.

  2. As Free put it, follow the money.

    If our entire nation weren’t coming apart I’d suggest a Minute for yearly Meetings: a school without a sponsoring Meeting (FCS has none) calls itself a Quaker School falsely.

    Thanks for getting the information out.

    Hank

  3. In all the private religious colleges I know of everyone needs to sign a statement of faith. My question is why do they vear from that with board and students. It is obvious some of the board is not quakers and why is there a Jewish club at a Quaker school. Perhaps their loose qualifications might be a problem.

    1. Our Meeting (Berea Friends) has attenders/members from various faiths/non-faiths. What holds us together is our willingness to listen and to be led. That people would also celebrate their own faith is fine, from that perspective.

      What’s not fine, about FCS, is what the administration there did, which is totally alien to the Quaker process of laboring to reach unity.

  4. I abhor the Friends Central School administration’s reaction to its two faculty members’s efforts to broaden their students and introduce them to different ways of thinking. And last year when Chuck Fager brought this incident to our attention, I wrote the headmaster to protest what I thought was his unQuakerly approach to the problem; I heard nothing in response. I was not surprised at his silence.

    But before we get on our high horses and become too emotional to think clearly, we need to recall that the same Friends who articulated values such simplicity, peace, etc., adamantly opposed using legal means, such as filing law suits in worldly courts, to settle their differences. So I doubt that we should mirror FCS’s administration’s violation of Friendly practices by violating them ourselves. Going down that road will take us quickly to stand with those militarists who constantly assert that the only way to defeat terrorists, say, is to use violence as they do.

    That’s why our Friend Milton Mayer insisted that all people–including ourselves, I take it–are corrupted and we should take care “to resist the beginnings” of evil.

    1. Believe me, I have done everything possible to avert filing this lawsuit on behalf of my clients, the two teachers, including going hat in hand to their big law firm. Nothing but arrogance.

      Mark D. Schwartz, Esquire

  5. Hi Larry,

    a good reminder.

    I had more in mind picketing and bumper stickers and minutes from Yearly Meetings. 🙂

    Hank

  6. Chuck – Thank you for reporting on this; light needs to be shone on this shameful episode.

    There has been a metamorphosis of Friends educational efforts over the past century or more that has moved these schools further and further from our ideals, testimonies and practices, to the extent that it seems mendacious for them to call themselves Friends schools. Earlier educational efforts were about providing educational benefits to those who otherwise might not have gotten any education; the best example of this were the Jeanes teachers; Friends schools were also about providing a “guarded” education for young Quakers.

    But now, our esteemed Friends schools are nothing more than elite prep schools that are not under the care of any monthly, quarterly or yearly meeting. As we have seen with the FCS debacle, their first obligation seems to be to their donors rather than to their students, their faculty, or any Friends’ ideals. The occasional use of Quaker language, meeting for worship during the school week, and governance structures that mimic Friends decision-making processes seem to me to be a form of Quaker kabuki rather than any real connection to Quakerism. As I read the court petition I could barely keep track of all the transgressions – gross, obvious transgressions – from Friends’ processes that were committed by FCS administration and trustees.

    FCS seems to be among the many formerly Quaker institutions that have slipped away from direct connection with the RSOF. We find institutions that use monikers such as “Quaker-driven” or “Quaker-inspired”. Or, they have a smattering of Friends on their boards or advisory boards. In the aggregate, the Quaker connection seems hopelessly frayed.

    The astonishing lack of transparency and communication from FCS board and administration is outrageous. Like Larry Ingle I wrote to the head of school expressing my concerns, but I got no response.

    I would love to see our monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings consider some sort of disownment of FCS’ actions. A disownment would tell the world that the actions of FCS are not consistent with or part of Friends’ testimonies or practices, and that we are appalled by their actions and by their pretense of being a “Quaker” institution.

    1. PS: If you will write an example “Letter of Disownment” I will do what I can to have it presented at SAYMA, which is happening in 3 weeks.

    2. I do like the idea of some sort of challenge to FCS’s use of “Friends” and “Quaker.” Not that we have rights to exclusive use, but using heartwarming words like “peace” and “community” to disguise heartless behavior doesn’t seem right.

  7. I could not read the situation of FCS without thinking of the situation of Ben Frisch being fired as long time teacher at Friends Seminary in New York City…which school has been sold by The NYQM to Friends Seminary . You probably are aware of
    the huge support that Ben has but I do not know the details. I hope you will make this situation known. I think money is involved as is FCS..,If Fstands for Simplicity. then something is amiss. Friends believe in resolving conflicts peacefully. God tells us to Love One Another. This seems the time to let truth speak to power and “witness to one”s beliefs”. I blame myself that in over 40 years as a Quaker I was not aware that such hypocracy exists..I leave it up to you young ones. God Bless You.

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