Anti-Semitism on the Island
Jewish families say Alameda schools have failed to adequately address bigotry.
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In response, McPhetridge said he takes these incidents very seriously and pointed out that he has made at least a half dozen written and public statements to the school community and before the school board. He also said that protocols to deal with bullying and harassment already exist at the district.
But Waldorf said the school district failed to fill out a bullying incident report about the threatening texts and never required an apology from at least three of the students responsible for hate speech. He also said the district rebuffed offers by the Zionist Organization of America to pay for and sponsor school speakers for Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, and posters his daughter and friends made for Jewish-American Heritage Month were torn down in a few days.
“If someone says, ‘Hitler should have killed your family,’ that is something that goes beyond,” he said. “I mean, what would happen if someone said to a black kid, ‘It’s too bad your whole family didn’t get lynched?’” he said. “That’s an implied threat.”
McPhetridge said school officials are prohibited from talking about the details of specific incidents and the exact discipline taken, because of federal laws that protect student confidentiality. He also said he has invited the Waldorf family to talk to him in a meeting. But they have refused to do so, until he states in writing what the district’s specific plans to address anti-Semitism are.
McPhetridge also said superintendents typically don’t determine specific disciplinary action at the schools—that’s up to individual school administrators who best understand their communities and the details of incidents. Also, as a superintendent, he couldn’t demand educators accept an organization’s offer to host speakers at their schools, he said. “That would be disrespectful to the educator.”
But Natasha said it wasn’t until the start of this school year that the new dean of Alameda High called her into the office to ask for the names of students who bullied her last year, so they wouldn’t be placed in any of her classes. But by then, much of the damage had already been done, Natasha said.
She had to still sit in class every day for the remaining half of last school year next to the student who she said instigated the hateful texts without school officials making any attempt to move him to another class. “So, I had to see his face every day,” she said of the student, who has since left the school. “And it felt like he was basically rubbing it in for me that he had won. It was like he was saying, ‘Look what I can do. I got away with it, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’”
Among the things the Waldorf family also has been asking for is a written apology from the student who made the offensive comments and instigated them. They also demand that training about the seriousness of anti-Semitism be required of teachers and that mandatory programs be set up for parents to learn about anti-Semitism, as well as age-appropriate education and observances of Jewish-American Heritage Month and Holocaust Remembrance Day be set up at all schools. They also call upon the superintendent to make strong public statements that describe the anti-Semitic incidents that have taken place and make crystal clear anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.
Former Maya Lin Elementary parent Jakki Spicer also believes the district should do more to a craft a clear protocol for handling anti-Semitic incidents. She and several other Jewish parents have formed a committee in recent months and hope to collaborate with district leadership on how to handle anti-Semitic incidents, with improved educator training, reporting, and communication to parents of hate incidents, and more age-appropriate curriculum to teach about the Holocaust and Jewish-American contributions to the nation.
She said her 11-year-old daughter also was subjected last school year to the hurtful comments of two girls in her Maya Lin Elementary fifth-grade class that defended Hitler, “as not such a bad guy but just confused” because “he was just trying to protect the Germans from the Jews taking all their land and money.”
And when her daughter tried to point out that if Hitler were still around, he would have wanted her killed, the girls responded with indifference, she said. She also said the restorative circle held by school officials that was intended to help resolve the conflict by allowing both sides to talk out their feelings to a deeper understanding never produced a real apology for the offensive comments.
McPhetridge responded, “As a district, we have denounced all forms of hate speech and hate actions and will continue to do so. It is important for us to not favor any particular group but to stand against bias, bigotry, and identity-based bullying as a whole so we can address it whenever and wherever it occurs.”
But until real changes come to the schools in dealing with anti-Semitism, the “Everyone Belongs Here” diversity and inclusion campaign the district is so proud of will seem to be empty talk, Natasha and her family said.
“It’s a great campaign. But as a Jew, I don’t feel like I’m part of that “Everyone belongs here,’” Natasha said, sighing. “If Jews belonged, wouldn’t we feel safe in our own school?
“It feels like none of these people who did these hateful things have learned anything — or understand what they’ve done is wrong,” she added. “And if none of them, know what they’ve done is wrong, they are just going to keep doing it.”