New London youth group pushes for firing of teacher in noose case

New London — A local youth activist group focused on social justice issues in the city's school system has Fred Driscoll in its sights.

The group, Hearing Youth Voices, has launched an initiative it hopes will lead to the dismissal of Driscoll, a social studies teacher placed on paid leave last week because of what some have called an insensitive description of the proper way to make a noose in his Advanced Placement Government class at New London High School.

Driscoll’s description was recorded by a student in his class and led to outrage from some students and parents who have now made other claims of racial insensitivity and sexism by the teacher.

Hearing Youth Voices has set up a system to accept complaints about Driscoll on its website and plans to pass on the complaints to the school district.

“Help us get justice in Teacher Lynching lesson! We know you all have more examples of this teacher crossing the line. Please report them,” the note on the website states. Maya Sheppard, the youth organizer for Hearing Youth Voices, said 10 people have already come forward to report past experiences with Driscoll.

“We’ve heard reoccurring stories of what’s happened over the years … things like women shouldn’t be able to vote and their place is at home and in the kitchen,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard said she’s heard from some that Driscoll has said to black students in the past that the only way they could get into good colleges is through affirmative action.

“We’re calling for him to be removed from the classroom permanently,” she said.

Elizanette Castillo, a 2018 New London High School graduate now attending Connecticut College, said she had Driscoll her junior year and heard the same noose description when she was in class.

Castillo described Driscoll as someone with “no filter.”

“And that’s not OK,” Castillo said. “How he would talk about how the death penalty works, execution and the details … he says it as if it's humorous, like he enjoys talking about it.”

Driscoll, in the recording, 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.”

The school district has hired an outside law firm to investigate the matter.

Hearing Youth Voices, in a letter to the community posted on its website, said Driscoll has in the past has handed out an instructional guide to students, “a how-to for noose-making, referring to lynching as ‘an art form.’”

"Historically, lynching was used as an extrajudicial means to murder Black people and was undoubtedly the acts of mobs to exercise hate and anti-blackness,” the letter states.

Castillo said she has also heard Driscoll make disparaging remarks about women entering the medical field and indicated he would refuse surgery from a female doctor.

Castillo said Driscoll, in the way he talks about women and immigrants, “reminds me of Donald Trump.”

“These are not things to say, especially in a school that diverse,” she said.

She thinks more people haven’t spoke up in the past because of fear of retaliation or that they would not get the grade they deserve.

Juan Roman, a former football coach at New London High School, is among a group of people who think the issue has been blown out of proportion. Roman had three children go through Driscoll’s class and said they never had a problem.

"I'm not a gray area guy. I feel it's as plain as day people are making something of this it isn't," he said. "As an African-American male, I'm all for minority empowerment but this is garbage. All of a sudden he's a racist? No one came forward before this."

Roman said Driscoll also has photos of his two sons, who are now attending Yale University, hung in the classroom as examples of successful New London students.

“He’s a man who has served his country. He’s a conservative. I’m assuming he’s over 60 and a white male. That’s not chic right now and that’s unfortunate,” Roman said. “This is a gentleman who has been teaching about capital punishment, how you can do it in a humane way and how, if you don’t do it properly, it can be inhumane.”

While Roman said he can’t speak to all of the allegations against Driscoll, he said he doesn’t believe Driscoll to be racist. He said his daughter, a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship award winner, was even chastised by fellow classmates for defending Driscoll.

Roman said he suspects Driscoll is being condemned for his politics because “Trump is a lightning rod.”

Driscoll has said he would not comment on advice of his union’s attorney. A union representative has not returned calls seeking comment.

Members of Hearing Youth Voices had joined with members of groups that included the New London Chapter of the NAACP and Step Up New London to approach school administration following public release of the classroom recording on social media.

People who attended that meeting have praised the response by Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie for quickly addressing the issue. Hearing Youth Voices plans a series of community meetings to organize around the issue.

g.smith@theday.com

 

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