Dismissal After Hate Notes

Following private investigation, Upper School teacher found responsible for “bias incident”

Beatrice Cappio
The desk of the Upper School English teacher who confessed to planting three notes containing slurs sits vacant in the English Office. The teacher’s dismissal followed a private investigation.

Following weeks of investigation, University Prep administrators fired an Upper School male English teacher after he admitted to placing notes with anti-Semitic slurs in the school mailboxes of Jewish colleagues, including his own, the school reported in a Jan. 14 email to UPrep families.

Administrators identified the teacher by name to the student body.

“The identity of the faculty member was shared at an all-school assembly,” Director of Marketing and Communications Mary Beth Lambert said. “That disclosure was intended to be internal only and was not released to the public at-large.”

In accordance with a request from the administration, The Puma Press will not identify the teacher by name. Lambert declined to comment on the story beyond Levinson’s email to families, stating that “it is UPrep’s policy not to publicly comment on inquiries related to personnel issues.”

The teacher was identified after the conclusion of a “rigorous 60-day” private investigation, Head of School Matt Levinson noted in the Jan. 14 email to families. The inquiry included “fingerprint analysis, extensive in-person interviews and a review of security camera footage,” he added.

The Seattle Police Department concluded that the incident was a “bias incident” by the definition of law enforcement, Head of Middle School Susie Wu stated in an Oct. 31 all-school assembly.

The anti-Semitic note incident occurred shortly after an all-school assembly addressing the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the findings of an anti-Semitic symbol and two racial messages on campus.

At the Oct. 29 assembly, Head of Upper School Ken Jaffe and Wu condemned bigotry inside and outside of the school community, stating a goal to “ensure the safety of those who are targeted …  and to establish ways to galvanize as a community in light of this incident.”

“An essential part of [our] plan includes the need for each and every one of us to actively fight for our collective commitment to University Prep’s core values of respect and inclusion,” Wu said. “You committed to those values when you and your family chose to enroll at University Prep, or when you decided to become an employee here.”

He apologized to me and the UPrep community, and is deeply remorseful.”

— Head of School Matt Levinson

Levinson reported the day after the assembly that the notes containing anti-Semitic slurs were left in the school mailboxes of three Jewish faculty members.

Directly following Levinson’s report, two of three faculty members identified themselves as recipients. The fired teacher, interviewed directly after the incident as a targeted individual, claimed to be a recipient of one of the notes.

In the Jan. 14 note to families, Levinson expressed that the teacher ultimately confessed to “writing and placing all three notes.”

“He has apologized to me and the UPrep community, and is deeply remorseful,” Levinson said. “He is no longer a member of the UPrep community and will not return to campus.”

Even after the teacher’s confession, Levinson indicated that many details related to the perpetrator’s motives are unclear.

“Although [the teacher] could not articulate why he did this, we do not believe his behavior was motivated by hate,” Levinson said.

Later contacted by The Puma Press over email after his dismissal, the teacher said he could not comment directly on the matter.

In an Oct. 30 email to families, before the perpetrator had been identified, Levinson remarked that the incident constitutes an infringement on key school values.

“This is a reprehensible and cowardly act that violates all that UPrep stands for,” he said. “We will not tolerate this, not now, not ever.”