LOWELL — Bob Hoey may have left the School Committee, but bigoted language and actions are far more widespread in the city than just one person, Superintendent of Schools Joel Boyd said.
After taking flak for not joining the calls by other city officials seeking Hoey’s resignation last week, Boyd appeared on WCAP’s Morning Show Friday to discuss his thoughts and approach to the situation. Hoey tendered his resignation from his seat in a Facebook live video the same morning, two days after he referred to a former School Department employee by an anti-Semitic slur on “City Life.”
“I think it’s important for us to have a conversation about the biases that lead to that type of language, and I think what we do as a community post-resignation is even more important than the actions of what one person does,” Boyd said. “Because for us to suggest that this is somehow an isolated incident, I think that runs contrary to the experiences that our communities of color have been sharing for some time.”
He said it also runs contrary to the experiences that members of the Jewish community are now sharing with him.
Boyd said the more important conversation centers around understanding the meaning of such slurs and how they cause harm, as well as the bias “that leads to that type of term being used flippantly on television as if it’s a casual conversation.” He said it needs to be a teachable moment, at the individual and community levels.
Without naming anyone, Boyd also alleged hypocrisy among some Lowell officials who called for Hoey to resign.
“There are people here that are condemning Bob Hoey’s language and the language on the McDonough television show, and then they are wearing Tucker Carlson T-shirts and celebrating the evening opinion pieces that speak the same type of atrocious language each night,” Boyd said on WCAP. “Let’s reflect on that. Let’s understand what we’re saying there. Let’s make sure we’re all genuine to who we are.”
In his initial statement Thursday on Hoey’s use of the slur, Boyd noted the pain that word brings to Jewish people and to him personally, having witnessed his mother be called the slur when he was a child.
Since publicly identifying himself as Jewish, Boyd said he’s heard that others have directed such comments toward him as, “The Jewish superintendent is more concerned with his personal pocketbook than he is with doing what’s right.”
Anti-Defamation League New England Executive Director Robert Trestan said Monday Boyd has done everything he expects a superintendent would do in response to such an incident, and the backlash Boyd has received indicates there’s a lot of anti-Semitism and Jewish stereotypes simmering under the surface in the community.
“It supports his point that some deeper learning and educational opportunities are needed here,” Trestan said. “It’s pretty shocking that in that aftermath of an anti-Semitic incident that received national attention that he’s now on the receiving end of this kind of scapegoating and stereotyping.”
Boyd said Monday the issue isn’t about him personally, and his role is “to make sure that we as a district are able to support our students and families through an indefensible act of bigotry.” He said resignation was the “only one possible response” from Hoey, and he was confident at the time of his initial statement on behalf of the district that Hoey ultimately would resign.
“I always supported the calls for resignation in every setting that I was in,” Boyd said. “However, at that time, I had to navigate the act of hate he displayed in the context of his job as my boss.”
With Hoey now out, Boyd said his intention is to bring the school community “to a place of learning and healing,” and he hopes the community embraces these efforts. He said that will include listening and gaining understanding from families and working with other districts and organizations to assist in reaffirming the district’s commitment to equity and transparency in steps to eradicate any form of anti-Semitism, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and any other bias-based conduct.
School Committee member Jackie Doherty said that although she believes Boyd should have immediately called for Hoey’s resignation, he’s correct in pointing out the issue is bigger than one man and she hopes for real action to make needed changes.
“Even when we don’t see it overtly, years of ingrained discrimination and systemic racism are with us,” she said. “We must do the work necessary through anti-racism training, listening and self-reflection to become a just and stronger community that truly values our diversity.”
City Councilor Bill Samaras said Hoey’s “repulsive and abhorrent” comments gave the city a “black eye.”
“As elected officials we have to sit down and do something about it. We have to correct our own behavior and make sure our own behavior demonstrates very clearly we won’t tolerate it,” Samaras said. “We don’t do that by criticizing each other, we do it by working together.”
Boyd noted he has appreciated The Sun‘s coverage of the issue, but expressed concern toward the end of the WCAP show that a “Jewish writer,” Amy Sokolow, was being “tokenized” to cover Jewish issues.
“In his effort to deflect and redistribute blame for the words of his political ally, Superintendent Boyd reduced our reporter to her religion,” The Sun Senior Editor Thomas Shattuck said. “It is a highly inappropriate and cynical tactic to divert The Sun from the story.”
Boyd said Monday his intention was to be supportive of the reporter, with whom he shares a Jewish identity, and his comment had nothing to do with how she carried out her job. He also denied the suggestion that he tried to deflect blame for Hoey and said calling him a political ally is “outrageous and inconsistent with the facts.”
“A School Committee member who’s showing support for my policy recommendations and support of the work of the administration does not reflect in any way a political association or an alliance,” Boyd said.