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Testing Horace Mann

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“We all knew which teachers were on Facebook, and that made it awkward to be sitting in class with them,” says Sonya Chandra, former editor-in-chief of the Record and member of another derogatory Facebook club.

On Thursday morning, September 28, Tischler sent an e-mail to the entire high school calling for a mandatory assembly on Friday to discuss the Facebook incident. “Make no mistake,” she wrote. “This is a serious issue, and there will be consequences for some students.”

That morning, Kelly called Sheehy to his office and said he was getting more pushback from board members, who were demanding that faculty be disciplined for accessing their children’s Facebook pages. After the meeting, Sheehy called his lawyer. Then a senior, who hadn’t viewed the sites himself, submitted a letter to the Record criticizing McGuire and another teacher for accessing the Facebook pages. Having learned that she was named in the letter, McGuire e-mailed Kelly and a dean who oversaw the paper hours before the newspaper was set to close, warning that she would sue for defamation if the letter appeared in print. Later that afternoon, Sheehy sent Kelly a memo from the grievance committee pressing him to censor the letter and protesting the board’s involvement. “We have been concerned by the involvement of [a member of] the Board of Trustees, in a disciplinary matter involving one of his children,” Sheehy wrote. “We consider this a clear conflict of interest and we trust that you will urge [the trustee] to allow the school to exercise its disciplinary responsibilities in relationship to its students.”

Kelly didn’t respond to the complaint regarding the trustee but commanded the Record to hold the letter.

At the Friday-morning assembly the next day, Kelly stressed the need to begin a dialogue about appropriate speech. At the same time, the trustees convened on campus.

Then, after lunch, McGuire and Sheehy were walking in front of Tillinghast Hall when a woman wearing alligator sunglasses stormed up to them. It was the trustee whose daughter had formed the anti-McGuire club.

“You logged into Facebook under a false name,” the woman said, glaring at McGuire.

“I had a right to defend myself against defamation,” McGuire responded.

“Students are just blowing off steam,” the trustee said. “They’re very stressed; it’s not unusual for them to say racist and sexist things … The site is private.”

“No,” McGuire insisted, “it’s got 9 million users.”

“What you did was like breaking into my daughter’s room and reading her diary … ”

“No,” McGuire said, the emotion rising in her voice, “what your daughter did was the equivalent of posting something in Times Square.”

McGuire could not control herself any longer. “What your daughter did was actionable, and I’m not talking about this anymore,” she said before walking off.

Barry Bienstock, the history-department chair, walked over as McGuire walked away. The trustee was seething. She told the men that McGuire had called her daughter’s friend Jeffrey Robbins, who is Jewish, a “Nazi” in class the previous spring and encouraged them to investigate the matter.

Over the next weekend, the administration became concerned that the media had gotten a whiff of the scandal. On Sunday, October 8, Tischler e-mailed the faculty, pressing them not to talk to reporters. “Last Friday, a member of the HM community—a faculty member, student, or staff member—called the Daily News to discuss matters that are being addressed in the Upper Division through disciplinary action for students and continuing conversation with faculty,” Tischler wrote. “In all instances of press inquiries, our response should be ‘no comment.’ ”

The following Tuesday, October 10, Kelly and Tischler called McGuire into a meeting. Tischler accused McGuire of “tearing the community apart” by viewing Facebook. Kelly added that the board chairman wanted her to write a letter to the Record explaining her actions. This was part of Jeffrey Robbins’s campaign to harass her, McGuire protested. Kelly replied that, in fact, there was a new allegation—the one leveled by the trustee in front of Tillinghast Hall—that McGuire had called Jeffrey a “Nazi” in class. “I hate to tell you this,” Kelly said, “but there is a rumor of a tape.”

That night, McGuire sobbed. As a senior in college, after setting out to study world religions, she had decided to convert to Judaism. She had been married for a year now to a Jewish doctor at Bellevue. How could she be accused of anti-Semitism? A working-class girl from rural Wisconsin, she had earned a doctorate from Rutgers. Her essay “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped,” about sexual violence in the civil-rights era, was anthologized in Best American History Essays 2006. But none of that seemed to matter. Before going to bed, McGuire wrote Bienstock. She was afraid to come to work, she confided.


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