O’Maley Innovation Middle School staff will receive training this week on how to lead sensitive discussions after a middle school student said he was belittled by a teacher several times for his political viewpoint.
Jackson Cody, 12, of Gloucester, requested the training for O’Maley staff after he said a teacher mocked him for supporting President Donald Trump in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.
“In a classroom setting, the teacher shouldn't be shaming one side for its legitimate viewpoint," Cody said in a message to the Times. "Know your First Amendment rights and stand up for them."
Cody and his family hired Gloucester-based constitutional law attorney Marc Randazza to represent the youngster. Both appeared on "InfoWars," a nationally known far-right American show hosted by conspiracy theorist and Trump supporter Alex Jones, earlier this week to discuss the incidences.
In a Sept. 30 letter to Superintendent Ben Lummis, Randazza detailed one incident, explaining that “(Unnamed teacher) asked the class about who they were supporting in the election. Mr. Cody expressed his support for Donald Trump. After that, (unnamed teacher) engaged in behavior that would be classified at best as unprofessional. She began with ‘Really, Mr. Jackson, I thought I liked you.’ It only got worse after that.”
The other incident took place in science class on Oct. 2, Randazza said, writing to attorney Naomi Stonberg, who is representing the school. He recounted that the teacher stated that she was "having a bad day, and the only good thing that happened to her today was that Donald Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus."
The students then began to discuss politics and Cody joined another student in discussing their Republican-leaning positions and support for the president.
The teacher requested that they stop talking politics, but, according to the letter to Stonberg, "permitted the rest of the students to engage in the same conversation in support of Joe Biden."
Randazza called the event "constitutionally troubling.”
“As a superintendent, I was disappointed to hear about this interaction,” Lummis wrote in a statement to the Times on Friday afternoon, detailing that he found out about the incidents on Oct. 1. “In the Gloucester Public Schools, we always want our students and staff to feel safe and that their point of view is understood and respected. Every day in our schools we strive for tolerance, understanding different perspectives and being civil.”
Lummis detailed that the day after, the teacher in question called Cody's mother, explained what happened, and apologized for making the him uncomfortable.
The following day, the teacher apologized to Cody and the rest of the class for engaging in a political discussion that didn’t properly respect a student’s point of view.
“All students in the class confirmed that she apologized to the student and to the entire class,” Lummis wrote.
“While I truly wish the staff member did not express her views in a disrespectful way, I am proud of the way the staff member handled this situation once she realized that she had made a mistake in the way she spoke to the student,” he added.
The name of the teacher involved has not been released to the Times.
“He is not suing anyone at this time,” Randazza told the Times on Friday. “He and his family are very community minded and have no desire to cause any unnecessary conflict.”
Cody and his family, according to the letters Randazza Legal Group shared with the Times, are seeking a “constructive” solution.
By Randazza’s definition, a constructive solution includes, “an apology to Mr. Cody and his family, a commitment from the school system that this kind of conduct will not be repeated, and immediate training for all your staff about respecting diverse viewpoints and that staff should refrain from political proselytizing while they have a captive audience.”
"We do not want money, we do not want anyone fired, we only want this to stop,” Randazza wrote.
The school’s principal, Lynne Beattie, followed up with Cody, his mother, Randazza, staff members, and all the students in the class in question to understand the events that had occurred. Beattie then emailed the entire school staff, reminding them about the school's core values of common sense and decency and their responsibility to ensure that all students’ beliefs are respected. The principal also reminded staff of their commitment to be models of tolerance who support civil discourse and facilitate unbiased, open dialogue.
The staff training that is scheduled for next week will include role-playing challenging scenarios that may come up when students discuss issues that are very important to them.
“We must remember at all times that as adults and educators we hold a position of power,” Beattie wrote in an email to staff, announcing the staff training. “Our opinions are meaningful to our students; they look up to us, and want to know that we value them. … At no time should a student feel that his/her/their individual belief or system of beliefs is less valued than others nor should they feel less respected as a result of those beliefs.
Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or email@example.com.