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New London teacher resigns over controversial posts about protests

New London — A widely criticized social media post by a high school social studies teacher related to ongoing protests over police brutality has led to the teacher’s resignation.

Fred Driscoll, the same teacher who previously was placed on leave for 10 months during investigations into allegations by students of cultural insensitivity and for comments he made in his class related to tying a noose, resigned on Wednesday.

Driscoll was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after he shared a post on his Facebook page reading, “Wanna stop the riots? Mobilize the septic tank trucks, put pressure on em ... hose em down ... the end.”

The post, which has circulated on other Facebook feeds, was quickly condemned locally as another example of insensitivity by a teacher some previously had called for to be fired.

New London NAACP President Jean Jordan said the post’s references to hosing people down immediately struck her as a reference to the Civil Rights era and for her conjured images of water cannons being used against African Americans.

“Personally, I have flashbacks of being a 7-year-old and watching that on TV. I don’t find it funny in the least,” Jordan said. “That comment says all I need to know about the man and I’ve never even met him.”

The post, Jordan said, set off a firestorm and she credited New London School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie with taking quick action. The post was reported to the school district’s human resources department as a possible violation of a letter written to Driscoll upon his return from administrative leave in August 2019.

“After review of the concerns raised and considering the gravity of the allegation you are hereby placed on administrative leave effective immediately,” reads a June 2 letter, obtained by The Day, to Driscoll from Elizabeth McCaffery, the school district’s assistant director of talent and academic data.

McCaffery says in her letter that a “full fact-finding hearing will be scheduled in the near future.”

Driscoll on Wednesday sent a resignation letter to Ritchie. “I am writing to inform you that I am resigning my position with New London Public Schools effective at the close of the business today as I intend to retire from teaching. I understand this resignation is voluntary and irrevocable,” he wrote.

Driscoll, 68, declined to comment for this report.

He had been placed on paid administrative leave on Oct. 30, 2018, after an audio recording from a student in his class captured what many argued was an overly graphic and racially insensitive description of making a noose during an advanced placement history class lecture on capital punishment.

Driscoll can be heard 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.”

Driscoll had defenders who said the incident was blown out of proportion and the man was being condemned because of his conservative political views. Some former students, however, came forward with stories alleging a pattern of sexist and racially insensitive remarks by Driscoll to students in the past.

The youth-led social justice organization Hearing Youth Voices, which had called for Driscoll’s firing, collected stories from former students in which they recounted incidents where he told one female student that women should not be doctors, referred to rap as “jail music” and told one black student “take your hoodie off, you’re scaring me.”

Eliza Brown, a youth leader with Hearing Youth Voices and high school senior, said there has been some frustration by members of her organization that concerns were not taken as seriously as they should have been.

Driscoll's recent post, however sparked immediate outrage and "blew up" on social media. Brown said more people are paying attention at this moment in time.

"Our community is full of black and brown folks and seeing this from a teacher outraged them," Brown said. "I'm just glad he will not be teaching and no other black or brown students will encounter uncomfortable situations with him."

Ritchie in 2018 had hired an independent investigator to interview students and staff about the noose discussion controversy. The investigation found, in part, that the comments did not “contravene any Board or NLHS policies regarding the discussion of controversial issues as they did not involve the expression of a political belief or ideology.”

A second investigation was launched shortly after to look into the complaints of bias and insensitivity lodged by students. That determined the accusations were difficult to substantiate, “and the overwhelming majority of all students interviewed had no recollection of Mr. Driscoll making offensive comments.”

Ritchie, in an Aug. 13, 2018, letter to Driscoll obtained by The Day, said he had always received “exemplary” and “proficient” evaluation ratings through his 19 years in the district but never had received consultative feedback “that your word choice, sense of humor and/or personal political views shared during class, have offended students.”

“It has become clear from the response of a group of students and community members, however, that there are some students that have indeed found offense to some comments that you have made," Ritchie wrote. “As the current superintendent, I remind you that it is not ok to only see that most students did not substantiate these allegations against you. A successful educator must make sure that EVERY student feels welcome, cared about, supported and emotionally safe within your classroom every day.”

Upon his return to school on Aug. 28, 2019, Ritchie had Driscoll serve in a large-scale training called “Beyond Diversity: An Introduction to Courageous Conversation & a Foundation for Deinstitutionalizing Racism and Eliminating Racial Achievement Disparities.” He additionally was tapped to be part of the district’s equity leadership team.

New London NAACP Vice President Tamara Lanier said Driscoll’s post, had it been a “one-time inappropriate statement,” might have left room for conversation. But, she said, the latest post showed a pattern.

“He must know how incendiary those comments are,” Lanier said. “I just can’t dismiss this as colorful language or a post where he is exercising his free speech. He's in a role where you have to know your audience. He is a history teacher ... and understood exactly what it means to turn hoses on people. This is red meat for an audience, to his base, his friends or whoever likes to read this stuff. It’s throwing salt into open wounds."

Ritchie posted a letter on the district’s Facebook page Tuesday, informing the community that Driscoll had been placed on leave.

“Our students need to know we care that they are loved and safe and that we are here to support their needs in any way. Staff has an obligation to continuously serve as role models and caregivers for our schools,” Ritchie said.

She asked that anyone with concerns should visit the district’s online incident form.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version correctly identifies Jean Jordan as the president of the New London NAACP.

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