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Chicago, Boston-area school districts under Title VI investigation

Neither of the districts discussed the specific allegations of discrimination for “shared ancestry.”

School buses. Credit: ernestoeslava/Pixabay.
School buses. Credit: ernestoeslava/Pixabay.

Public school districts in Chicago and in the Boston area are under investigation for alleged violations of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Education announced.

Chicago Public Schools, which traces its origins to 1837 and now has 634 schools, nearly 325,000 students and nearly 45,000 employees and an $8.49 billion budget, and Natick Public Schools, in the Boston area, which has 5,300 students at nine schools, are being investigated for discriminating based on “shared ancestry,” which can include antisemitism.

The Education Department and its Office for Civil Rights don’t detail the nature of the allegations against the schools and districts that it lists weekly on its website.

Bella Wong, interim superintendent of Natick Public Schools, told JNS that the district received notification from the Education Department on Tuesday that there is an investigation “to assure the district adhered appropriately to protocols utilized to affirm and ensure the civil rights of our students are protected.”

“The Natick Public Schools is extremely committed to this endeavor. Annual training is mandated for all staff. Working together we are engaged proactively on a daily basis in all of our schools to ensure this is true for all of our students regardless of their race, creed, color, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other class protected by law,” she said.

“To this end, we welcome working with the OCR on this review,” she said of the department’s Office for Civil Rights. 

JNS asked the district for further information about the allegations it faces, but the district did not respond by press time.

In March 2022, a swastika was found drawn in a bathroom at Natick High School, one of the district’s educational institutions. More recently, community members talked about Jew-hatred at a Dec. 18 meeting of the Natick School Committee. 

One speaker referred to “increases in hateful speech and graffiti” that is antisemitic, “as we’ve seen in many of our schools. We’re not safe in this world. Please tell me that we’re safe here.”

“For years, my family has talked to me about antisemitism, but I couldn’t relate, at least in this part of the country,” another speaker said. “However, when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, it took me a couple of weeks to catch up to what many people in the Jewish community already knew. Jewish people are in trouble. The following Friday when there were terror threats, I was scared to send my son to school for the first time in my life.”

“Please, if you see a swastika in school, tell a teacher, and I’m sure they haven’t wondered if upon hearing that a child found a swastika, would the teacher care or would they feel that Jewish students deserve it?” the person added. “Please say, we can trust the Natick public schools to keep Jewish children safe.”

Windy City 

Mary Fergus, executive director of media relations for Chicago Public Schools, told JNS, that the “safety and well-being of our staff and students is a top priority and a foundational condition for our school communities.”

“While we cannot go into detail about any particular report or investigation due to student and staff privacy protections, our Office of Student Protections and Title IX thoroughly reviews each report in accordance with district policy and procedures,” she said.

“As a system, we recognize that the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has led to an increase in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents,” she added. “While CPS actively works to promote student voice and protect students’ constitutional free speech rights, bias-based harm is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The school district has “encouraged everyone to ensure their language and actions are respectful of their fellow school community members,” Fergus added. “Each one of us shares the responsibility to create a safe and welcoming working and learning environment, free from harassment and discrimination.”

In January, hundreds of Chicago public school students walked out of class to protest Israel’s war to destroy the Hamas terror organization. Writing about the Chicago City Council’s vote to demand a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip—which came after the mayor Brandon Johnson broke a 23-23 tie—The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted that Chicago Public Schools aided the resolution by letting students walk out for a ceasefire and that Johnson said he is “incredibly proud” of the students.

Chicago Public Schools is working with schools where walkouts occurred to train students about inclusive environments, and it held a Feb. 9 professional development session for staff and students at schools that had walkouts about current events, including in the Middle East, according to the district. The district also mandated Title VI training for all staff starting on Feb. 9.

The school district is also working with partners to update curricula that relate to antisemitism and the war in Gaza and it is verifying that all elementary and high schools are following state law that requires instruction about the Holocaust and genocide, and it sent out resources to leaders of schools about how to respond to violence in Israel, Gaza and Judea and Samaria, according to Chicago Public Schools.

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