School board investigates Bluffton, SC teacher who is accused of assaulting a student, making comments about Nazis, Jews

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School board investigates Bluffton, SC teacher who is accused of assaulting a student, making comments about Nazis, Jews

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
Published Tuesday, May 1, 2012   |  841 Words  |  

The police investigation into allegations that a Bluffton Middle School teacher dragged a student by the collar while calling him a Jew has concluded with the teacher's arrest Monday.

The Beaufort County School District's review will take a little longer, officials said.

Members of the Beaufort County Board of Education said Tuesday they were waiting for more details about the incident that allegedly occurred April 25 in Patricia Mulholland's seventh-grade social studies class.

The Bluffton Police Department says that Mulholland grabbed a seventh-grader by the collar while saying "Come here, Jew," and shoved him under a table saying, "This is what Nazis do to the Jews."

The victim's parents decided to press assault charges Thursday morning, the same day Mulholland was placed on paid administrative leave. Her attorney, Robert E. Ferguson, said Monday the incident was an "interactive" history lesson conducted while the class was learning about the Holocaust.

The school district has said its investigation will remain open pending a plea or court verdict. Mulholland faces third-degree assault and battery, and public disorderly conduct charges, both misdemeanors, May 22 in Bluffton Municipal Court.

"There has been no conclusion (to the district's investigation)," board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said. "If something like this happened, that's not something our policies or (the board) as individuals condone."

Board members Julie Bell, Bill Evans and Herbert Burnes also said they were waiting for more information before commenting on the alleged assault. The remainder of the board declined to comment or could not be reached.

Meanwhile, national news organizations -- CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press among them -- picked up on the allegations against Mulholland.

INVESTIGATION TIMELINE

The student told his parents about the incident April 25 after school.

That same afternoon, his parents told Bluffton Middle School principal Dereck Rhoads that they intended to press charges and learned that the district had already begun its internal investigation, district spokesman Jim Foster said.

Rhoads had been told about the incident Wednesday by another teacher, who had heard about it from another student in the class, Foster said. School officials began collecting witness statements from the class for the Bluffton Police Department to use in its investigation and placed Mulholland on indefinite administrative leave.

The statements largely mirrored the alleged victim's account, police spokesman Lt. Joe Babkiewicz said. Throughout the class, other students had been filming Mulholland on their cellphones as a result of her erratic behavior, Babkiewicz said.

Bluffton police arranged to interview Mulholland Friday morning. Instead of showing up at the agreed-upon time, Mulholland and Ferguson, her lawyer, decided together it "wouldn't be in her best interest to come in," Babkiewicz said.

Warrants for her arrest were filed Friday. Through her attorney, she agreed to turn herself in on the charges Monday morning.

The student was not hurt when Mulholland allegedly grabbed him, according to the police report.

Babkiewicz said the students' cellphone videos used as evidence in the case show that class objectives written on the chalkboard included learning about propaganda during World War II but made no mention of the Holocaust.

"I covered this with Principal Rhoads (Tuesday)," Babkiewicz said. "Rhoads said when they do that type of activity demonstrating any possibly sensitive subject, they have to run it by him first. She didn't.

"After doing that type of role-play, teachers would also be required to talk about it with the class afterward -- what did we learn from this, and so on. She didn't do that either."

Attempts Tuesday to reach Mulholland's lawyer Ferguson were unsuccessful.

REACTION

As the allegations against Mulholland made national news, mixed reactions have been posted in online comments and through social media -- some proclaiming Mulholland's innocence, others expressing outrage.

Leslie Bentz, who said her daughter was in Mulholland's sixth-grade social studies class at H.E. McCracken Middle School in 2008, said Mulholland was a creative teacher who was also deeply involved in the drama department.

"(My daughter) often described her as funny and lively," Bentz said. "She is not a dull, boring teacher but tends to be very animated by telling jokes, singing and role-playing."

"I find it very hard to believe this was an intended assault on a student," Bentz said.

In the wake of the allegations against her, Superintendent Valerie Truesdale had been in touch with local Jewish leaders, district spokesman Foster said.

"They were obviously concerned about the allegations, but all of them seemed to appreciate the fact that we were keeping them in the loop," Foster said.

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