Driscoll teacher to resume job after allegedly saying curse

Sasha Saias, Arts Managing Editor

Driscoll School social studies teacher Larry Chen, who was threatened with possible termination, has recently had his position reinstated, according to a statement from the superintendent’s office.

“Mr. Chen’s employment with the Public Schools of Brookline has not been terminated. Mr. Chen will return to his job duties in Brookline on Monday, November 2, 2015,” read the statement.

Chen was accused of allegedly using the word “bullshit” in front of two high school juniors, according to Driscoll eighth graders Yali Beit Ari, Maya Sekhar and Chuka Stergios.

Beit Ari said that Chen, who is the coordinator for the Model UN club, was speaking with with the high schoolers in the Driscoll school computer lab, and said the curse word within hearing distance of another teacher, who later reported him to administration.

According to the public statement, although Chen will not be terminated, he will be required to attend a program of professional development. It also said that he will return to his teaching duties on Thursday, Nov. 5.

In the statement, the administration said that they appreciate the public interest in this matter, but reiterated that it will not publicly discuss the details of personnel matters. Acting Interim Superintendent Joe Connelly was reached but could not comment for the same reason.

Chen could not be reached for comment.

According to Stergios, the possibility of losing Chen as her teacher was a devastating prospect.

“For me, it’s my last year at Driscoll, and I was really looking forward to spending time and learning in an environment that I was used to and that I was really comfortable in, and that was Mr. Chen’s classroom,” Stergios said.

According to Beit Ari, many Driscoll students view Chen as their favorite teacher.

“He is super creative,” Beit Ari said. “Students can connect to the information that he gives. In class, he is interactive. He doesn’t just teach or lecture. He walks around the room and answers questions and relates topics to what we know and not just dead history. He just connects with everybody.”

Stergios also said that Chen is a teacher that many students trust. According to Stergios, her friend with dyslexia was able to connect with Chen like no other teacher, and he provided her with guidance and support.

“ said that was one of the only teachers that gave her extra help and was able to give her what she really needed,” Stergios said.

According to Beit Ari, his popularity among students made it especially difficult for them to understand why the school system could have possibly terminated him based solely on his alleged transgression.

“I thought people were kidding at first, that it was just some rumor going on because it just didn’t make sense,” Beit Ari said. “It was disbelief at first.”

Students started speaking out shortly after they learned that Chen was given notice of termination, on Friday, Sept. 25. Students wrote the slogan “#SaveChen” on their foreheads and arms, and plastered the school walls with signs bearing the same slogan.

“We tried to keep them up so that everybody would hear about it and create some noise,” Beit Ari said. “That worked. We got little kids who don’t know who Mr. Chen is to talk about it.”

The students then went on to conduct an organized walkout during lunch on Tuesday, Oct. 6. According to Beit Ari, students got up in the middle of their lunch period and walked over to the main office where they proceeded to sit quietly until the end of the school day.

“They threatened to call our parents so a couple of kids got up, but the majority of us stayed,” Beit Ari said. “They didn’t do anything and none of our parents got called. Eventually Joe Connelly came to speak to us. He said he wanted to hear what we had to say.”

A large group of Driscoll seventh and eighth graders then marched to Town Hall to protest what they believed to be an unfair threat to their favorite teacher. The students carried signs and wore handmade T-shirts with the slogan “#SaveChen”.

“We just wanted to show our support,” Beit Ari said. “We got as many people together as possible and we even got some other parents to come. We posted on social media and told our friends.”

Parents were also unhappy with Chen’s possible termination. Many joined the students at Town Hall and many more wrote letters to the administration and former Superintendent of Schools Bill Lupini asking for Chen’s full reinstatement. Parents and students also participated in an online petition that garnered more than 320 votes.

According to Sekhar, the students’ learning has been compromised throughout this process.

“We have suffered a huge loss, whether it be protesting and missing class or the substitute simply skipping over the American Revolution and moving around certain subjects in order to push forward with the curriculum,” Sekhar said. “One substitute does not know where the other has left off and they are all very different in their teaching styles.”

Regardless of the widespread protests among both students and parents, it is still unclear what exactly occurred that could have led to Chen’s possible termination. According to Driscoll parent Sara Stoutland, it is unlikely that administration would have considered terminating Chen based solely on cursing in front of students.

“I believe that a school official said that it was not sexual in nature and it’s not criminal,” Stoutland said. “But otherwise we don’t know. We don’t know if he said ‘BS.’ He probably did but that’s not grounds for firing. We don’t know if it’s a series of issues, or if it was one big one that we haven’t heard of.”

Stoutland believes that only successful legal representation could have influenced Chen’s verdict.

“What I know is that Mr. Chen deserves support in terms of really good legal representation,” Stoutland said. “I think that it’s good that all the parents wrote letters of support, but after that, we’re not in the room. We don’t know.”

Brookline Educators Union President Jessica Wender-Shubow decided to take Chen’s case, claiming that Chen is a man with a lot of talent, according to the Brookline Tab. She also said that she is disturbed that administrators have yet to provide clear guidance on language use, including what type of language is permitted.

Regardless, according to Beit Ari, Chen is a special kind of teacher.

“He’s really unique,” Beit Ari said. “I never had any other teacher that teaches the way he does. He gets people to be passionate about what he is teaching because he is passionate about it. History is everything for him.”