Duxbury is an idyllic town on the South Shore, founded by the Pilgrims. There are beautiful beaches, some stunning homes, and not a little money, which is why some wise guys call it Deluxebury.
It’s a nice town and a great place to raise a family. They just spent $128 million on a new high school, but apparently didn’t have enough left over to buy a constitutional law book for the glistening new library. And for all that money, they can’t afford common sense for their school administrators, either.
A couple months ago, a popular physical education teacher and assistant football coach named Harry Taylor was suspended for what was vaguely described as inappropriate physical contact and verbal abuse of a pair of football players. According to some players I talked to, Taylor told a couple of kids to stop doing something in the new gym, and when they didn’t he yelled at them and whacked one of them on the arm.
I’m told neither of the two kids complained. Someone else did. Who knows? The facts of the case are not really the point here.
Taylor was fired this month, with most everybody in Duxbury still in the dark about what he did and why the punishment was so swift and severe.
That didn’t sit well with a lot of students who like Taylor. Some started wearing shirts and other items to school emblazoned with a T or “Free T,” often in duct tape. That show of loyalty to a teacher was treated as treason by the administration.
“Students were called down to the office for exercising their rights as citizens,” said Maggie Connelly, a senior who started a petition to rehire Taylor that has already garnered more than 1,800 signatures. “I know multiple people who have been issued detentions and have also been threatened with suspension.”
The football team was told, en masse, no more shows of support for Taylor. Or else.
Swell. What a lesson to teach high school kids: Sit down and shut up, because your opinion doesn’t count. Don’t stand up when you think you’ve seen an injustice. No one cares what you think about due process. And whatever you do, don’t challenge authority.
It’s not just kids who think this is wrong. I’ve talked to parents who, irrespective of their views on the merits of the case against Taylor, believe kids have gotten the wrong message from officials who have wrapped their decisions in secrecy and intimidation.
Besides being the parent of a Duxbury High student, Terry Fahey is an attorney and can’t for the life of her grasp just what part of the First Amendment school administrators do not understand. “They are completely misguided and need to be educated about the Bill of Rights and the protections afforded by the Constitution,” she said. “They are subjecting the school system to potential lawsuits because of their ignorance.”
I never heard back from assistant principal Marc Talbot, who one student accused of swearing at him over his support of Taylor, allegedly using the sort of language school administrators described as “severe verbal abuse” when applied to Taylor. Principal Andrew Stephens demurred, saying I’d have to talk to Schools Superintendent Ben Tantillo.
Tantillo said in an e-mail last night: “Because there are two victims of the teacher’s actions in our building, the wearing of ‘Free T’ constitutes bullying/creating a hostile environment, according to the new state bullying laws.”
He said the school attorney concurred with this assessment after contacting the ACLU.
Why do I think this is not the last we’ll hear about this case?
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org