Imagine we were in Aiken, South Carolina: a pretty town, near Augusta and the Georgia border, with a fine mild climate (headed for the low fifties today, February first, while much of the rest of the US freezes and shovels out).
But we’re visiting there in 1916. Aiken’s climate is a major selling point for the town. It has numerous hotels which attract well-heeled Yankees fleeing the deep freeze of northern winters, and even the heat of summer, plus a railroad to bring them and various cargoes up and down the Southeast.
February first in 1916 was also a Tuesday, and as the Southern Railroad morning train pulled in from Georgia, the streets were already busy. A great many people of color, dressed as for Sunday churchgoing, were on the streets, heading for the old school.
There were enough of them that few noticed a family of five calmly making their way along the sidewalks toward the station: a tall couple, and three girls of school age.
But not only were they dressed in their best, they were wearing coats heavier than needed in the cool day, and carrying parcels, elderly-looking suitcases and covered baskets. If you were looking for them it would be evident that they meant to get on the train, not to meet someone getting off.
This just in: a lawsuit filed against Friends Central School (FCS) in Philadelphia in 2017 by two teachers who were fired after a Palestinian speaker they invited in February 2017 was disinvited by school officials. The order of settlement is below. (More text follows.)
The speaker, Sa’ed Atshan, teaches at Swarthmore College. FCS Students protested, walked out, were ignored. The Philadelphia Daily News slammed the administration action:
Philadelphia Daily News: Friends’ Central lacks integrity in shunning controversial speaker
“ANOTHER WEEK, another hit delivered to free speech, this one coming from an unexpected source – a Quaker school.
Last week, the head of Friends’ Central School, a Quaker private school in Wynnewood, uninvited a Palestinian who had been asked to speak by a student club. Students protested that decision, in part by walking out of an all-school gathering. This week, head of school Craig N. Sellers suspended two faculty advisers to the student group, saying – in effect – that they were inside agitators who had whipped up the student protest.
Or, as Sellers put it in a statement, the teachers disregarded “our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace and integrity.”
We see it differently. In our view, it was Sellers who disrupted the peace of the Friends’ Central community. And you can hardly call the muzzling of an invited speaker an example of integrity.”
The teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed for many documents to begin discovery. At some point, the school chose to negotiate, and the settlement was entered earlier this month, more than three years after it was filed.
The terms of the settlement were not announced. Schwartz’s full statement in response to my query was: “NDA.” That is, “nondisclosure agreement.” I speculate that it was a generous amount of money, enough to move the plaintiffs to agree to keep quiet about it.
In the world of employment lawsuits, such settlements are generally counted as a qualified success: at least the plaintiffs have something for their trouble, and interrupted or terminated career.
For the record: Here is a list of the blog posts on the Friends Central School lawsuit:
On August 2, federal judge Petrese B. Tucker issued a decision on a motion to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed in July 2018 by two former teachers at Philadelphia’s Friends Central School (FCS).
The teachers, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, were suspended in February 2017, and fired in May, after they scheduled a talk at FCS by Sa’ad Atshan, a Palestinian Quaker professor at nearby Swarthmore College. School officials canceled Atshan’s talk.
Tucker’s decision dismissed some of the charges made in the lawsuit, but said others were credible and litigation on them could go forward.
The fired teachers’ lawsuit made six accusations. It named school officials and board members as defendants.
A normally reliable source has furnished me a copy of a letter from the Principal of Friends Seminary (or FS) in New York City, announcing that “In late January we will welcome Ben Frisch back into the classroom.” (I called FS to ask about it; as of this writing, there was no response.) The full text of the letter is below.
If you don’t know, Ben Frisch is the Quaker teacher at Friends Seminary (“the”, as in THEonly Quaker teacher almost a year ago, when this story began), who was abruptly fired last March.
He got the boot after making a clumsy joke in a geometry class about how his raised arm, illustrating an obtuse angle, was like a “Heil Hitler” salute.
Frisch is about as far from being “Nazi friendly” as you could want. Although he’s a longtime Quaker, his ancestors were European and Jewish, and some were lost in the Holocaust. He doesn’t need a “diversity officer” to brief him on all that. Nevertheless, he was canned within a couple weeks. In a letter to students, the principal, Bo Lauter, wrote, “Our students know that words and signs of hate and fear have no place at Friends . . . .” Continue reading Friends Seminary – Fired Teacher Will Return→