Ever wonder what it’s like inside a cloistered New England boarding school?
My wife and I were enthusiastic parents at one such prep school for two and half years, but in a few days things suddenly went south.
The US Supreme Court is now considering a case brought by the Levy family that involves freedom of speech and repercussions for a swearing cheerleader at a public high school. Our case, flying largely under the radar, involves a swearing football player at a private high school that could have easily been a “teachable moment” but has now been replaced by institutional intolerance.
It began when our son uttered an expletive at his football coach on the sidelines of the last game of the year. It occurred in a fit of adrenaline and frustration when the coach kicked him out trailing 40-0 at the end of the first quarter after Noah, a co-captain, suggested a change of plays. Days later, the school convened a “Disciplinary Committee” – a kangaroo court that in a 5-1 vote recommended his expulsion.
“I am begging you to suspend Noah or make him a day student,” I pleaded to the head of school, “but don’t kick him out in the middle of his senior year just as he’s flourishing and applying to college.” My wife was in tears, “Are you totally heartless?” she asked. We acknowledged that while Noah could be brash, he was well liked and respected, an independent thinker who marched to his own drummer. The next morning, on Friday November 15th, we received the expulsion letter and helped pack up his dormitory room that afternoon.
When my son told us that his coach had systematically and mockingly referred to him as “Goldberg” instead of Greenberg, and repeatedly called our kid, who was diagnosed with learning disabilities, as “dumb,” “a b****,” “a moron,” “an idiot,” and a “wus” it put us over the edge.
I was given the number of a Connecticut education lawyer who is an Asian American. “My name is Wing,” he said. “But let me tell you a story about a judge who said to the jury: ‘Wong, Wang, Wing, what difference does it make?’” He, too, knew this “joke” was not intended as benign.
The Gunnery (which in virtue-signaling fashion last spring changed its 170-year-old name to The Frederick Gunn School to more clearly reference its abolitionist founder) said it was “surprised to learn that the Greenberg’s got a lawyer.”
“Don’t they know? Goldberg’s sue!” a friend exclaimed.
No longer intoxicated by the Connecticut preppy scene, I now regret being one of their most rah-rah parents, once rationalizing to my fellow Jews why I was letting my son suit up on Yom Kippur for his first game. I look back at the old handwritten notes from school administrators about Noah, how “thrilled” they are that he’s “thriving,” commending him on giving a speech on the meaning of Passover to the entire school with virtually no notice.
In the last few weeks, our case has heated up with depositions and over one thousand pages of documents and revealing internal emails the school handed over, including two glowing college recommendations from teachers that could have changed Noah’s fate and were never released despite numerous pleas to do so.
We are struck by a memo from an associate admissions director who first interviewed my wife and me — now seeing her thinly veiled stereotypes – describing us as “two bulls in a China shop,” who “burst into the admissions area,” “intense,” and “proceeded to prompt Noah’s every word and steer our initial conversations.”
When my wife, son and I went to retrieve his belongings and leave the school for the final time, several kids were shocked and in tears, but not one faculty member or employee said goodbye. “To say they were angry was an understatement,” marveled one administrator. She was amazed at anger over a kid being banished from teammates and friends, having his college prospects diminished, banned access to his own academic work, emails and ghosted over social media?
He was not alone. In court filings, the school wrote that they had dismissed 9 out of 10 kids who faced the disciplinary committee (not including others who left on their own initiative) out of a student body of some 300 in the shortened 2019-2020 COVID academic year. These families are responsible for all remaining tuition and their empty slots are quickly filled. If that’s not enough, in affidavits, this school tries to assassinate our son’s character, accusing him of “sexism, ageism, and classism,” because he started an online petition asking that students receive extra helpings of food and referred to a dining room employee as a “nice elderly lady.”
Noah ended up getting his diploma at a nearby public high school. He just finished his freshman year, excelling academically, athletically and socially and sporting a Star of David at a Lutheran college, which in the Christian spirit of kindness, was one of the few willing to overlook his expulsion.
The primal pull of protecting our offspring is part of our motivation to keep pursuing litigation over the last year and a half, but it’s deeper than that. It’s about justice for all our kids, Jew and gentile. Noah is a fighter, and he runs the case, asking tough questions, allergic to hypocrisy and speaking truth to power in the Jewish tradition.
The school wants to teach this Jewish American family a lesson. To make an example of us. Don’t even think of messing with us – that is their message. They want people to believe the distortions, outright falsehoods and head scratching claims in their legal filings, including that the football coach called my son Goldberg over 3 seasons because he’s a fan of the ABC show of the same name.
We aren’t buying it. In this David vs. Goliath battle, it might be the school that learns a lesson.