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Lawmakers grill K-12 school leaders on antisemitic incidents

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A Republican-led congressional committee asked school leaders whose districts have seen antisemitic incidents about what they’re doing to prevent further incidents in their schools since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

Leaders of schools in New York City and Berkeley, California and Montgomery County, Maryland told the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education their districts had taken action against antisemitism and other hate through policies, training for staff and curriculum for students.

David Banks, chancellor of the New York City Public School District, said that the school district has fired teachers and suspended students over antisemitic incidents. He said it was crucial that students feel safe, citing his past experience as a school resource officer.

Banks said that in response to an incident at Hillcrest High School, where students reportedly rioted and mobbed a Jewish teacher’s response to the Oct. 7 attack, the New York City Public School District moved the principal and suspended students. Banks confirmed to lawmakers that that principal continues to work for the public school system.

“A Jewish teacher was targeted in a frightening episode,” Banks told a lawmaker. “We didn’t accept that. We pushed back on that tremendously.”

Banks said that a number of students, including those who led the riot at the school, were suspended or faced other discipline.

Karla Silvestre, president of the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, said the district has taken disciplinary action against some teachers, but said that the school district has not fired any teachers.

A Montgomery County Public School teacher who included the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in her email signature is suing the district for being placed on leave and investigated over the use of the phrase, according to MoCo 360.

Silvestre told lawmakers that she thinks the phrase is antisemitic, specifically “if the intent is the destruction of the Jewish people.”

Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of Berkeley Unified Public Schools, said that she would not discuss specific disciplinary action taken against teachers or students for their role in antisemitic incidents but said action was taken in every case where hate-based incidents were reported.

“We investigate every complaint and concern thoroughly and thoughtfully, and we take action,” Ford Morthel said in response to questions about whether teachers were fired. “Those actions range.”

Ford Morthel said that students wanted to learn more about the Oct. 7 attacks and subsequent conflict in the Middle East, so teachers created curriculum materials to explain current events. That curriculum has been criticized as being inaccurate and biased, according to reporting from Berkeleyside, which reviewed the slides used in Berkeley High School.

• Chalkboard News is published by Franklin News Foundation, which also publishes The Center Square.