Fate unclear for teacher whose explanation of noose led to uproar

New London — The fate of a New London teacher facing controversy over his detailed explanation of how to make a noose during a classroom discussion on cruel and unusual punishment remains unclear.

The school district declined to comment on whether any action was taken against high school history teacher Fred Driscoll, calling it a personnel issue. Driscoll’s comments, considered by some parents to be offensive, overly detailed and racially insensitive, have led to an investigation by the district.

Driscoll, in a recording made by a student during an AP Government class on Monday, is heard in part saying, “The rope has to be soaked in water for a certain period of time so it has a little bit of elasticity to it, and the knot has to be tied properly. The knot has to go between the right vertebrae, so when you drop, it snaps your neck and it kills you automatically.”

There were more than 20 parents and students that met with school administration at the high school on Tuesday to decry what they heard in the recording. Others took to Driscoll’s defense.

Christopher Affie, whose son was in attendance in Driscoll’s class at the time the comments were made, said his son told him the class discussion was “respectful and valid,” given the context of capital punishment. He said his son, who is an honor society member, considers Driscoll an excellent teacher.

Affie wrote a letter to School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie and school board members in Driscoll’s defense.

“The context was cruel and unusual punishment. He was describing why they did it that way,” Affie said. “Personally, my son wasn’t offended by this. This is a top-level college class.”

Affie also said the audio recording circulating on social media is only a snippet of a larger discussion.

Jean Jordan, president of the New London NAACP and retired teacher from the New London school district, was among the group to approach administration on Tuesday.

“They did listen to what the parents and kids had to say. Cynthia Ritchie let the parents know there was a working plan in place and assured us it would be a safe environment for them today,” Jordan said.

The implication was Driscoll would not be in class on Wednesday; Affie said he was not.

Jordan said she had a relative that committed suicide at a young age by hanging and her concern was for students in the class that might be depressed.

“You don’t give them a roadmap on how to kill yourself,” Jordan said. “Who goes into that kind of detail when describing something like this? It’s not appropriate. It’s not necessary, especially given the climate going on in the world right now.”

Tamara Lanier, vice president of the New London NAACP who was also at the meeting, said some of the concern was of the racial overtones related to a discussion about lynching.

“He’s giving them blow-by-blow details on something as egregious as a lynching. We can’t ignore bias or hate when we’re confronted with it. We have to take a serious step in addressing it,” Lanier said.

In the face of a group of upset parents and students, Lanier said Ritchie was able to calm and reassure the parents and ease concerns of students. Both Lanier and Jordan said they did not expect Driscoll would be teaching on Wednesday.

In response to questions from the Day, Ritchie issued a statement on Wednesday:

“New London Public Schools prides itself on upholding high standards for all. Students should expect to participate in well-planned engaging lessons, directly linked to academic content standards, that are taught within a safe and nurturing environment daily. The voices of all students, staff, families and members of the community are valued and this will continue. Any incidents that may defy our high expectations are investigated and responded to immediately. Students and our entire school community as a whole will continue to benefit from our vision of being 'United In Excellence.”'

Reached by phone, Driscoll declined comment under advice of his union attorney. Representatives from the union did not return messages requesting comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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