Weeks after a Bluffton Middle School teacher allegedly assaulted a student and called him a "Jew," clergy members spoke to students at the school about tolerance and respect.
Rabbi Brad Bloom of Congregation Beth Yam, the Rev. David Nerbun of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, Jeff Cranston of Lowcountry Community Church and Rabbi Steve Kirschner of Temple Oseh Shalom spoke to the students Friday about the Holocaust and the importance of standing up for those different from you.
"Each human being you have encountered and will encounter deserve the utmost dignity," Nerbun said. "Do more than just tolerate" each other.
The visit was prompted by incidents April 25 in the classroom of seventh-grade social studies teacher Patricia Mulholland. The teacher allegedly grabbed a student by his collar, forced him under his desk and said, "This is what the Nazis do to Jews."
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Mulholland has been charged with third-degree assault and battery and with public disorderly conduct and placed on administrative leave. Both charges are misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in prison or a $500 fine.
Mulholland has a court date scheduled for Tuesday.
Her attorney has said in an interview that his client's behavior was part of a lesson to demonstrate the Nazi's inhumane treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. According to Bluffton police reports, Mulholland told authorities she might have mistakenly taken her husband's medication, causing bizarre behavior captured on video by several students.
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said after that incident that clergy members and district staff believed it presented a learning opportunity.
All Bluffton Middle students at school Friday attended the assembly in shifts of about 250. Each clergy member spoke about the Holocaust.
Students said the assembly, which was incorporated into the regular character-education program, was a good reminder to respect others, regardless of their differences.
The lesson, they said, brought closure to some of the concerns at the school in recent weeks.
"This talks about how (the incident) was wrong, and why (the teacher) is in trouble," sixth-grader Kaylin Story said.
They also said the reminder might prompt them to act differently if they see a student being picked on.
"I usually say something if it's my friend (being picked on), but I should do it even for people I don't know," sixth-grader Vanessa Diaz said.
Principal Dereck Rhoads said the same team of clergy members will attend a staff meeting next week to talk about how to teach sensitive subjects and what teachers can do to encourage respect.
"We need to heal as a school community," he said. "This will re-emphasize why (the incident) was such a big deal, why a comment like that is not acceptable."
Next week, teachers across the district will give lessons to all students on respect and tolerance, Truesdale said.
- Bluffton teacher accused of assaulting student, commenting about Nazis, Jews; April 30, 2012
- School board investigates Bluffton, SC teacher who is accused of assaulting a student, making comments about Nazis, Jews; May 1, 2012
- Bluffton police: Teacher accused of assault, Nazi comments was possibly under influence of prescription medicine; May 2, 2012