Thursday, June 17, 2004

Case of Arnold Zar-Kessler

Case of Arnold Zar-Kessler
Headmaster - Solomon Schechter Day School, Newton, MA

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination reached a decision June 28, 2004 to dismiss the complaint of sexual harassment against the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and its headmaster, finding that there was a lack of probable cause.

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Table of Contents:

  1. Day school head accused of sexual harassment; Complaint is filed by teacher with MCAD against headmaster at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston  (06/17/2004)
  2. Furor at day school as teacher is not rehired (06/18/2004)
  3. Head of Jewish school accused of harassment  (06/23/2004)
  4. Day school headmaster cleared of sexual harassment charge MCAD finds lack of probable cause; case closed  (07/16/2004)

  1. 2013 NAJDSC Conference (02/03/2013)
  2. Linkedin: Arnold Zar-Kessler (10/19/2013)


Day school head accused of sexual harassment; Complaint is filed by teacher with MCAD against headmaster at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston
Jewish Advocate (Boston) - June 17, 2004

BOSTON -- A teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston in Newton filed a sexual harassment complaint against the school's headmaster.

The official complaint was filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on Jan. 26, 2004. It stated that teacher Patricia Weiss of Randolph was "discriminated ... on the basis of sex" by headmaster Arnold Zar-Kessler.

The four alleged incidents occurred over a four-year time span. The complaint also said there is a list of "eight other women that have also been (allegedly) subjected to Mr. Zar-Kessler's harassment." According to the complaint, Weiss also included a list of witnesses for each alleged incident.

Weiss, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher, continues to teach at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and has done so for 21 years.

An MCAD spokesperson, Elizabeth Forman, stated that the case is still "very active." She said that an investigation was completed May 28, and it will be closed "in the not too distant future." She said that a deposition is being drafted.

Forman said she could not make any additional comment, as it is policy to not discuss active cases.

The Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston has issued the following statement concerning the allegations of discrimination and harassment:

"The Board of Trustees appointed an independent committee to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations. After extensive interviews, the investigation committee concluded unanimously that the allegations were unsubstantiated. Further, the board affirmed its support for Mr. Zar-Kessler."

The statement continued: "The board takes these allegations very seriously. The safety of our staff and students are the board's utmost concern. The school's board leadership will continue to cooperate fully with the Massachusetts Commission (Against Discrimination) investigation, and it will continue to act with speed and care in bringing this matter to resolution, and in accordance with state law, school policy, and Jewish teachings."

According to the MCAD complaint, Weiss was first allegedly harassed by Zar-Kessler in September 1999 when he was principal of the school. She stated in her complaint that she had complained to then-headmaster Rabbi Dov Bard, who reportedly told Zar-Kessler to "stay away from me," according to her complaint.

In another incident in April 2001, she reported that Zar-Kessler allegedly harassed her again, this time when he was in the position of headmaster of the school. Weiss reported that she spoke with the president of the teachers' organization known as the Alliance. Weiss stated in the complaint that the president of the teacher's organization then reportedly spoke with the school's then-president, Jonathan Chiel. "I believe that Mr. Chiel told Mr. Zar-Kessler to leave me alone once again," she stated in the complaint.

The third incident allegedy occurred in June 2003.

"Again, a member of the Alliance met with Dan Jick from the Personnel Committee to speak generally about Mr. Zar-Kessler's (alleged) continuing inappropriate behavior towards women. I believe that Mr. Zar-Kessler was again told that he needed to act appropriately," the complaint by Weiss reads.

A final, fourth alleged incident took place in November 2003. Weiss said in the complaint that she personally complained to the school's current president, Deborah Cogen Swartz, about the alleged harassment on Monday, Nov. 10. The next day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, Zar-Kessler interrupted a parent-teacher conference to apologize to her, according to the filed complaint.

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Weiss filed an official sexual harassment complaint with the school.

She stated in the MCAD complaint, "It has now been 11 weeks since my sexual harassment complaint. There has been no credible activity undertaken by the Committee that was formed to investigate my complaint aside from my initial interview on Dec. 10, 2003, though school policy dictates that such an investigation will take place 'immediately.'"

When contacted, Zar-Kessler said that he did not want to comment.

The school's president, Deborah Cogen Swartz, also named in the complaint, was not available for comment.

In the MCAD statement, Weiss said that she e-mailed Howard Rodenstein, the chairman of the sexual harassment investigation committee. She stated that she was told that the process would take at least eight to 10 more meetings, with meetings only occurring two to three times per month.

Weiss told The Jewish Advocate that she did not want to make any comment, except to say that she stands by her MCAD statement.

The MCAD process contains six phases. A complainant, or person who feels they have been discriminated against, must first file a complaint. The intake office will then determine whether the alleged incident is under its jurisdiction. If it is, a copy of the official complaint is sent to the "respondent," the person or organization against whom the complaint has been filed.

After an investigation is conducted, a determination is made whether there is "probable cause" or "lack of probable cause." If probable cause is found, the complainant and respondent come together to try to come to a resolution. If no resolution can be reached, the case moves to a public hearing, after which the commissioner will make a decision.
If lack of probable cause is found, the complainant may appeal the ruling and hold an informal hearing to explain the case. The commissioner will then decide to reopen it or sustain the ruling, thus closing the case.


Furor at day school as teacher is not rehired
By Penny Schwartz , Advocate Staff
Jewish Advocate - Vol 195 No. 2529 SIVAN - 5 TAMMUZ 5764 · JUNE 18-24, 2004

(If you have a full text copy of this article, please forward it.)

Complaint is filed by teacher with MCAD against headmaster at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston

BROOKLINE - When the school year ends at the Maimonides School on June 18, the employment of a veteran teacher who is highly regarded by many in the school community will come to an abrupt and unexpected end.

The passionate and public controversy that has engulfed the school in the last few months is rare in this tight-knit community, which prides itself on the principles of derech eretz, a moral code for the respectful treatment of its students and staff.

On April 27, sixth-grade teacher Deborah Onie was informed by the elementary school's principal that after a 21-year career, her annual teaching contract for the next academic school year would not be renewed.

"I love teaching," Onie said in tears, recalling the incident. "I developed the entire curriculum myself; there was nothing (that existed) 21 years ago. I treated each child as a separate individual to help the child be everything he or she can be personally and academically. I stayed over the years because I believed in the values and ethics that the school presents itself as having."

Onie said that Elementary School Principal Rabbi Stuart Klammer handed her a letter - not printed on official stationery - which stated that her teaching contract would not be renewed. "You don't fit in here," Onie alleges she was told by Klammer, whom she said allegedly then added: "I hope you find a place where you do fit in. I'll throw you a party."

Asked to comment about the non-reappointment, Rabbi Klammer provided a statement through his secretary, "All personnel matters are strictly confidential. This is Rabbi Klammer's response on behalf of the school committee." Several days later, after further inquiry to administrators and school officials, the following school committee statement was issued to The Advocate.

"Personnel decisions are typically based on evaluations over multiple years," the statement said, "and feedback is clearly provided to employees. In the case of a negative decision a teacher is free to appeal. In addition, the school committee welcomes constructive input from the parent body and takes their feedback into consideration. In all cases, matters are held in the strictest of confidence and no one outside of the administration, the school committee and the teacher involved is privy to the specifics of that teacher's evaluation."

Peter Finn, Maimonides School's general counsel, stated that "all proper procedures and processes were adhered to."

"We have 54 dedicated faculty members in our elementary school. We are proud of our 67-year tradition of love, respect and honor for all of our faculty, and we share with them the values of caring for the health and well-being of all of our children," said Joshua Wolff, the school's executive director.

ONIE TRACES her employment problems back two years, to the end of the 2001-2002 school year. On June 28, 2002, Onie alleges she received a phone call at home from Nancy Posner, general studies ...

(full text of article not available)


Head of Jewish school accused of harassment
By Sarah Andrews
Needham Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The headmaster of Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton is under state investigation after a female employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against him earlier this year.

Patricia Weiss, who has taught at the school for more than 20 years, registered the complaint in late January against headmaster Arnold Zar-Kessler, claiming he was verbally "hostile" to her on four separate occasions because she is a woman.

The incidents allegedly occurred over the past five years.

Weiss also filed a similar complaint against Zar-Kessler with the school's Board of Trustees earlier, which didn't result in any actions against him. Though the board appointed an independent committee to investigate Weiss' claims, it found "unanimously that the allegations were unsubstantiated," according to a board statement.

The board continues to support Zar-Kessler as headmaster.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination refused to comment on the case because it is still under investigation.

Neither Weiss nor Zar-Kessler commented for this report.

In her complaint, Weiss said that Zar-Kessler allegedly harassed her for the first time in September 1999, claiming that he screamed at her in front of colleagues for not standing in the rain to help kids on the buses during Hurricane Floyd. Weiss says she reported the incident to then-headmaster Rabbi Dov Bard, who allegedly then told Zar-Kessler not to enter Weiss' classroom.

All of the incidents in Weiss' complaints center on Zar-Kessler allegedly using a "hostile manner" with the teacher. Weiss listed several people as witnesses to each incident and also claimed at least one other female teacher attended counseling after an encounter with Zar-Kessler.

But one board member said the school's investigative committee spoke with all of the witnesses Weiss listed and didn't find any evidence to support her claims.

In 2002, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination received 4,150 complaints, 85 percent of which were employment related. The department closed 4,447 cases that year. Of these, only 198, less than 5 percent, were ruled in favor of the aggrieved person. One-fifth of the complaints were filed on the basis of sexual discrimination.

Zar-Kessler became headmaster in 2000, but had worked at Solomon Schechter since 1993 as the Upper School director, according to a press release sent out in 2000. The school provides secular and Judaic education to about 600 students in grades K-8 from all over the Boston area.

Before coming to Solomon Schechter, Zar-Kessler was educational director at Temple Israel in Natick and the science department chairman for the Franklin County Technical School. He lives in Newton with his wife and three daughters.


Day school headmaster cleared of sexual harassment charge MCAD finds lack of probable cause; case closed
Day school headmaster cleared of sexual harassment charge MCAD finds lack of probable cause; case closed
BY Jason Nielsen  - Advocate Staff
Jewish Advocate - 27 TAMMUZ - 4 AV 5764 · JULY 16-22, 2004

BOSTON - The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination reached a decision June 28 to dismiss the complaint of sexual harassment against the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and its headmaster, finding that there was a lack of probable cause.

The case is now closed, reported MCAD spokesperson Elizabeth Forman. She said that the complainant, teacher Patricia Weiss, had 10 days to appeal the ruling. According to Forman, no appeal had been received as of July 13.

When contacted, Weiss offered no comment on her decision not to appeal the case.

The original sexual harassment complaint was filed on Jan. 26, 2004, by Weiss against the school and its headmaster, Arnold Zar-Kessler. The complaint cited four alleged incidents of sexual harassment occurring between 1999 and 2003.

Weiss, a seventh- and eight-grade teacher who had taught at the school for 21 years, read from a prepared statement, "I have been assured of the board's willingness and ability to prevent further incidents. This assurance is the reason I did all of this."

She continues to work at the school in her current capacity.

The Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston issued the following statement concerning the MCAD findings and dismissal of the complaint against the school and its head:

"We are pleased that MCAD's findings support the conclusion reached by the school board's specially appointed Investigation Committee. We will now...

(full article not available)


North American Jewish Day School Conference
2013 NAJDSC Conference - February 3, 2013


Linkedin: Arnold Zar-Kessler 
October 19, 2013



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