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Newton teachers demand full report on graffiti incidents

Day Middle School Principal Brian Turner addressed a community forum in March to discuss anti-Semitic graffiti found at the school.
Day Middle School Principal Brian Turner addressed a community forum in March to discuss anti-Semitic graffiti found at the school.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/file

The Newton teachers union has formally requested a complete copy — without redaction — of the independent investigation into anti-Semitic graffiti at Day Middle School, according to a letter from the union president.

The letter from Michael Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, said teachers feared retaliation from school administrators for advocating “more thorough, transparent, and responsible conduct regarding the incidents.”

Zilles said state labor laws give unions a right to information that is relevant to their members, including information that may be contained in the report that would exonerate teachers from having any role in the decision not to report the incidents in a timely manner.

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Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a bathroom wall at the Day school in October, and a swastika was found trampled into the snow just off school grounds in January, yet the incidents were made public in February only after an anonymous letter with photographs was received by police, Mayor Setti Warren, members of the School Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League.

In his letter, Zilles requested a copy of the report on the incidents and their aftermath completed by independent investigator Ray Shurtleff, including any disciplinary recommendations, and a report of any actual disciplinary action that may have been taken.

The letter was addressed to City Solicitor Donnalyn B. Lynch Kahn. On Friday, Kahn said that neither she, nor anyone in her department, “had any involvement in the decision-making process regarding redacting the report.”

She said she forwarded the request to School Superintendent David Fleishman and attorney David M. Connolly, who is representing the School Department in this matter.

“To my knowledge, the teachers and councilors at Day Middle School who were aware of the hate speech conducted themselves responsibly and appropriately,” the letter from Zilles states.

“Beyond that, they advocated forcefully with their administrative leaders that these leaders be more thorough, transparent, and responsible in their conduct regarding the incidents of hate speech, and expressed fear of and recounted threats of retaliation from school administration towards them for having so advocated,” it continued.

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A heavily redacted copy of the report was released on May 6 by Connolly. The copy released to the Globe after a request under the state’s public records law deleted all references to school personnel and anything that could help identify employees or students, shedding little light on why administrators delayed in reporting the incidents.

The portions of the 12-page report that were released did include information confirming there was no “outreach” to faculty or parents by Day Middle School administrators after the incidents.

In his letter accompanying release of the redacted report, Connolly wrote that portions of the report dealing with “related reaction, action, or lack of action by administrators or faculty involved or knowledgeable about” the incidents are not public records.

“These sections of the report are personnel records, as the information contained therein pertains to specific and identifiable employees and would be considered useful in making employment decisions regarding those employees,” he wrote.


Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.