Main Line Quaker School Fires Teachers, Re-Invites Palestinian Speaker

Attorney claims teachers won't take severance package after termination from Friends' Central School

A Main Line Quaker school fired two teachers for inviting a Palestinian advocate to address students.

Friends' Central School on City Avenue in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, confirmed to NBC10's Brandon Hudson that teachers Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa didn't have their contracts renewed. The two were previously suspended and the firing was announced in a letter sent to the school community.

"The decision not to renew these teachers’ contracts was the result of a deliberate and thoughtful Quaker decision-making process, the details of which will remain confidential," Head of School Craig Sellers said in a statement.

"Academic excellence, attention to individual students, opportunities for leadership, and Quaker values have and will continue to be hallmarks of a Friends’ Central education. Our graduates translate the education they receive here to success in their top choice colleges, in professions that are as varied as our students' interests, and in community life."

The teachers were put on administrative leave in February. The two supervised the school's Peace and Equality in Palestine club.

The kerfuffle involved Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies assistant professor Sa'ed Atshan. Parents complained about Atshan's involvement in a movement that advocates punitive measures against Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories. School leaders canceled his speech.

Bryn Mawr-based attorney Mark Schwartz said the school offered Eure and Helwa $5,000 each in severance if they dropped a civil rights lawsuit and signed a confidentiality agreement. Schwartz said his clients won't take the deal.

"My clients have a lot more integrity than the current administration of Friends' Central," Schwartz said. 

Schwartz called Sellers' actions in this and other employment disputes "hardly Quakerly." [[238427591, C]]

He hopes to continue with actions filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In a letter, Sellers said that he and the school board would take into consideration a series of recommendations offered by a task force formed in the wake of the speaker controversy. Among the recommendations were a Tuesday event with the the Dialogue Institute of Temple University and an upcoming screening, open to parents, of the film, "Wrestling Jerusalem,about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The task force also suggested re-inviting Atshan speak and Sellers re-extended the invitation Friday -- after taking a pause "to allow our community time to create more comprehensive and well-articulated programming around the Arab/Israeli conflict," Sellers said. 

"Now that our community has developed a framework and a set of criteria for programs and speakers addressing contentious, complicated issues, I believe it is an appropriate moment to re-extend the School’s invitation to Dr. Atshan. In my invitation, I will ask him to share his personal experiences and path to peace education, all within the framework of the task force’s recommendations. This invitation is part of an arc of skill building, learning, and listening which will continue with additional visitors who have experienced the Arab/Israeli conflict and other conflicts around the world in equally personal, yet different ways."

The school said they have yet to secure a date where Atshan would talk with students.

"Embracing the challenge of dialogue around contentious issues is central to the Mission and Vision of Friends’ Central School, " Sellers said. "The resulting skill building, learning, and listening will enhance the intellectual caliber of our classrooms and our community as a whole."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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