A popular Brookline middle school teacher facing termination for allegedly using profanity has been reinstated to his job, the superintendent said Tuesday, after a wave of support from parents and students.
“Mr. Chen’s employment with the Public Schools of Brookline has not been terminated,” Interim Superintendent Joe Connelly wrote in a statement released Tuesday and published on the Brookline Public Schools Discussion Facebook page, concerning teacher Larry Chen. “Mr. Chen will return to his job duties in Brookline on Monday, November 2, 2015. He will participate in a program of professional development, and return to his regular teaching duties on Thursday, November 5th.”
The statement comes after weeks of rising tensions surrounding Chen’s possible termination from the Michael Driscoll School in Brookline. Chen has been on leave since late September, after another teacher reported hearing him say “bull [expletive]” to two high school students following normal school hours.
The decision on Chen’s job was up to Connelly. A working phone number for Chen could not be located Tuesday.
Upon Chen’s leaving, parents and students rallied around the teacher, protesting at Brookline School Committee meetings.
David Pollack, a School Committee member, said Tuesday night that it was “extraordinary what happened over the past couple of weeks.”
Talking about the recent demonstrations by Driscoll students, Pollack called them “thoughtful and touching,” and added that the issue was handled by the superintendent’s office “as it should have.”
School Committee Chairwoman Susan Wolf Ditkoff and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Scotto published a statement on Facebook on Oct. 11 stating that the superintendent’s office is responsible for personnel matters, not the school board.
Jeff Feldgoise, who has two children that went to Driscoll and one who is there now, believes the entire situation was mismanaged.
Feldgoise told the Globe Tuesday night that he blamed the School Committee for the controversy surrounding Chen’s administrative leave.
“The buck stops with the School Committee,” and that “without the spotlight [generated by the media and students’ attention], Mr. Chen would be without a job right now,” he said.
Feldgoise’s daughter, Thea, called Chen “the most amazing teacher.”
“Larry was the only teacher who was willing to put in the extra time and effort for the Model UN [school program],” Jeff Feldgoise said. “Nobody else, he was willing to do it. And that was part of the question when the termination came up — who was going to take that over? That would have affected 30 or 40 kids.”
Brookline Town Meeting member Jennifer Kohn Goldsmith said she is happy with the outcome, but she hopes that the energy surrounding the issue can be utilized for better purposes.
Goldsmith, whose two sons attended Driscoll, said that the issue concerned her because it reflected on how the school district handles problems, and it affects “the hiring and employing of young, great teachers.”
She said she was initially surprised to see the district let a young teacher go without any mentoring or guidance, and she was surprised again to see Connelly’s statement say that Chen will undergo professional development.
“It kind of contradicts how it was all handled,” said Goldsmith.
Goldsmith stressed that feelings about the situation went beyond parents and students.
She noted that former School Committee member Ira Chan, who spoke at last week’s school board meeting, voiced concerns about how the district handled the matter.
“It wasn’t just kids and parents,” said Goldsmith, before adding that she does see some benefit from all of the controversy.
“The good that can come from this is an earnest call for transparency. What goes on in the district, it’s about the whole town,” said Goldsmith. “Maybe this time [we can] pick a superintendent who’s more concerned with transparency than procedure,” she added, referring to the system’s former superintendent, William Lupini, who recently left the district.
The superintendent’s office could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union, said in a statement late Tuesday that Chen, “like any union member facing dismissal, was represented by a lawyer brought in by us, along with other union representatives. We have taken that responsibility seriously. That said, we protect the confidentiality of those we represent, so we won’t be discussing the details.”
Clarification: A comment by Jennifer Kohn Goldsmith was in reference to the school district’s recently-departed superintendent, William Lupini, and not the current interim superintendent, Joe Connelly.