WESTFIELD — A complaint that was filed last year against a member of the Westfield Board of Education has been dismissed by the state’s School Ethics Commission.
The complaint, initially filed by resident Stephanie Siegel in February, accused board member Sahar Aziz of using her personal social-media accounts and status as a professor of law to propagate “openly hostile attitudes toward Israelis, Jews, and/or people who support the existence of the world’s only Jewish state.” The complaint was later amended and resubmitted by The Deborah Project on Ms. Siegel’s behalf, a public-interest law firm that works to combat anti-Semitism in educational settings.
Ms. Aziz, who was nearly removed from her elected position last year after failing to adhere to the board’s meeting- attendance policy, later filed a motion to dismiss and asked the state to impose a fine of up to $500 against Ms. Siegel for submitting a “frivolous complaint” rooted in personal bias.
Last month, the School Ethics Commission, a nine-member board comprised of gubernatorial appointees, voted to dismiss both Ms. Siegel’s complaint and Ms. Aziz’s response without awarding punitive damages to either party.
In its decision, issued on December 19, the Commission stated that while Ms. Aziz’s comments were “controversial and likely perceived as offensive and hurtful to members of the District’s Jewish community as well as to the Jewish community as a whole,” her actions as a private citizen were not directly related to the board or its general operations.
“The Commission’s analysis is guided by whether a reasonable member of the public could perceive that the school official is speaking in his or her official capacity or pursuant to his or her official duties,” the Commission notes in its findings. “In this circumstance, [Ms. Aziz’s] social media posts were made from her personal professional social media account that did not reference her board membership.”
Lori Lowenthal Marcus, an attorney from The Deborah Project, told The Westfield Leader last week that organization intends to appeal the Commission’s decision in state Superior Court.
“We remain convinced that Ms. Sahar Aziz has violated her ethical obligations to the Westfield School District,” Ms. Lowenthal Marcus said. “We are confident that our position will be vindicated.”
Ms. Aziz, who has not yet announced whether she will seek re-election to the board in April, did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
A second ethics complaint, which alleges that Ms. Aziz unlawfully directed a district-funded attorney to launch a retaliatory investigation against the superintendent of schools and several other members of the board in pursuit of her own legal interests, was filed against Ms. Aziz by board member Brendan Galligan in November of last year.
Mr. Galligan’s complaint is still under review by the Commission.
“I’m not surprised that the complaint filed by Ms. Siegel against Ms. Aziz was ultimately dismissed,” Mr. Galligan said. “At its core, that complaint centered around speech. While I vehemently disagree with Ms. Aziz’s rhetoric and tweets, I do support her right to make such comments. The complaint came down to the degree to which her actions impacted the district; a subjective standard, at best.”