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Disappointment follows school officials’ House testimony on Jew-hatred

The New York City Department of Education “has not taken antisemitism seriously,” one student told JNS.

School classroom. Credit: Pixabay.
School classroom. Credit: Pixabay.

Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s subcommittee on early childhood, elementary and secondary education grilled officials from New York, California and Maryland K-12 schools about “pervasive” antisemitism on campus on May 8.

A student, a teacher and two parents from the three represented school districts—New York City Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools (Maryland) and Berkeley Unified School District (California)—told JNS that they were disappointed with the responses from the officials.

Milo Smulansky, a junior at Stuyvesant High School—part of the New York City district—told JNS that the New York City Department of Education “has not taken antisemitism seriously.”

Although Stuyvesant administrators have met with students, they have “failed to act when presented with evidence of antisemitism in their school,” Smulansky charged. He added that the chancellor’s office did not respond when it was given a dossier of antisemitic incidents involving public school students, including at Stuyvesant, that largely occurred after Oct. 7.

“Essentially, we have been turned away at every level of the Department of Education,” he said. (JNS sought specific comment from Stuyvesant and the Department of Education. The press secretary for New York City Public Schools told JNS: “I think the testimony shows how we responded.”)

Smulansky said David Banks, the chancellor of New York City Schools, was the best of the three experts who testified before the House subcommittee last week.

He appreciated that the chancellor presented “tangible examples of at least some disciplinary action,” though he thought it was “unproductive” that Banks dismissed “disciplinary action in favor of teaching about the Jewish community and our common humanity.”

“Discipline does not preclude teaching,” Smulansky said. “Both can and must exist. And yet, in Chancellor Banks’s school system, it seems neither has been sufficiently achieved.”

Banks testified that he accepted the explanation of a teacher who posted a map in her classroom, bought in Jerusalem, referring to “Palestine” instead of Israel—that she hadn’t realized it was problematic.

Smulansky sees things differently.

David C. Banks
New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. Credit: New York City Public Schools Press Office via Wikimedia Commons.

“A Palestinian-American teacher put up a map expressing her personal political view. She was surely aware that Israel exists, and by extension, aware that her denial of its existence was offensive to Jews and likely misleading to students,” he said. “I doubt that this was some innocent misunderstanding as Chancellor Banks seemed to present it.”

Smulansky also dismissed a suggestion from Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) that the city’s public school students ought to be taught about a time when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived harmoniously in the Middle East.

“Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted in the Middle East when Jews and Christians were subservient dhimmis,” said Smulansky, using the Arabic term for a “protected” non-Muslim living in Muslim lands.

“To completely simplify that time in history as a rosy fairy tale is naive and, more importantly, inapplicable in any real sense to the current situation,” he said. “This particular issue is not a Muslims versus Jews problem. To frame it as such is ignorant and reductive. It pits groups of people against each other unnecessarily. This is a racists versus Jews problem.”

‘Already infiltrated our schools’

Ilana Pearlman, a parent of Berkeley Unified School District students, is one of several parent leaders of Berkeley Jews in School.

Pearlman told JNS that she was upset to hear Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District, “flat-out” deny that there is pervasive Jew-hatred in the district.

Ford Morthel testified that there have been nine allegations of antisemitism in the district since Oct. 7, but Pearlman told JNS that this number understates the problem greatly.

“If I were to just poll my parents’ group, you’d get over 100,” she told JNS.

Pearlman also took issue with Ford Morthel’s testimony that the district had designed its own ethnic-studies curriculum rather than purchasing one. Pearlman told JNS that the district hired a consultant trained by the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium. (The Berkeley district did not respond to a request for comment.)

Liberated Ethnic Studies “has already infiltrated our schools,” she told JNS.

‘Justice was not done’

Brooke Meshel, a special-education teacher at Montgomery County Public Schools who is Jewish, told JNS that she found the hearing dissatisfying and that the district “got away with it” because members of Congress “didn’t do their homework on MCPS.”

In March, the Daily Wire reported that the district “knowingly used false information to discipline” Meshel after she told her principal that she’d witnessed antisemitism at a school walkout.

Karla Silvestre, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, testified before the subcommittee that the district conducts investigations after hate-bias incidents are reported.

“I know that’s false because I’ve never been given investigations,” Meshel told JNS. 

An MCPS spokesman said, “What is true is, without fail, if a complaint is filed, there will be an investigation. Our rules and process require this. Investigating complaints is vital in addressing incidents of antisemitism in our school district. For students, we have progressive discipline and restorative practices outlined in our MCPS Student Code of Conduct; for staff, we have our Employee Code of Conduct, all rooted in policy (and regulation) ACA Nondiscrimination, Equity and Cultural Proficiency, which prohibit such behaviors. Therefore, it is false to say that reports of antisemitism are not investigated.”

“They literally just wrote me up and put me on massive restrictions. The only reason I was able to get out of that was I hired my own attorney,” Meshel told JNS.

At the hearing, Meshel felt that “justice was not done,” she said.

Margery Smelkinson, a Jewish parent of Montgomery County Public Schools students and leader of the Maryland Jewish Alliance, told JNS that she was “pretty disappointed” by the hearing.

“Compared to the hearings with the college presidents, the committee just didn’t ask those hard-hitting questions,” she said. “We gave them a wealth of information. They just didn’t get into those topics that were problematic about the reinstated teachers, hate speech at walkouts, the cumbersome way of reporting hate bias incidents.”

“They had all this information, but it wasn’t really addressed,” she added.

Although Silvestre said the district would be forthcoming with updates about hate bias reports, “a member of our group has asked for updates on disciplinary actions taken, and they’ve been stonewalled,” Smelkinson said.

“A lot of members of our group follow these reports,” she added. “No one ever gets updates.”

She also noted that the Jew-hatred training that Silvestre said district employees will receive is state-mandated, and the Montgomery County Board of Education opposed the bill, which recently passed.

“It seems disingenuous to act like they’re doing it on their own,” according to Smelkinson. “I wouldn’t say teachers are now getting comprehensive antisemitism training, which is what she’s suggesting. … That was completely oversold.”

“Everyone I spoke to in Montgomery County who watched the hearing who cared about MCPS, they were like, ‘What happened? This was not what we expected,’” she said. “We expected some hard questions, and they didn’t get any.”

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