While college campuses have been infiltrated by antisemitic speech and actions, local public schools are also experiencing increased incidents of Jewish hate.

This Instagram post describes one such alleged incident where a Philadelphia School District middle school teacher crossed out the word “Israel” and changed it to “Palestine” for a geography class assignment.

When asked to confirm if the word was changed by a teacher, the district spokesperson said “this statement is factually inaccurate” and included a letter that the principal subsequently sent out to families.

“Yesterday, students were given a geographical handout on the Physical Geography of North Africa and Southwest Asia. The map did not reflect the political boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian territories, leaving students feeling unsupported. The teacher’s efforts to support some of their students, did not support all students in the way they deserve.”

Further questions posed to the district yielded this response, “since this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide further details.”

The district’s and the principal’s responses raised more questions than answers. 

Robin Schatz, the Director of Government Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia confirmed that a group of parents filed an Office of Civil Rights complaint against Philadelphia School District as a result of ongoing antisemitic actions towards Jewish students.

Schatz said that since October 7, 2023, there has been an uptick in antisemitism across the region, but the issue is significantly worse at the Philadelphia School District than in the suburbs. The Jewish Federation receives daily messages from parents and teachers detailing concerning events. And while some local suburban school districts are responding to concerns and in some instances being proactive with training, Philadelphia School District, according to Schatz, does not have a handle on what is happening.

“Philadelphia School District is the most significant in terms of complaints from parents, students, and teachers,” said Schatz. While the issue appears to be concerning throughout the district, the Northeast seems to be experiencing more problems, although at least one principal responded appropriately when a Jewish student was physically assaulted, according to Schatz. She added that at least one teacher eats lunch in their car every day to avoid problems as a result of supporting Jewish students and teachers.

In the late fall, a group of parents started meeting with Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington to address the issues. Schatz said that unfortunately, “the conversations went nowhere.” Those failed discussions led to parents filing the Office of Civil Rights complaint. Subsequently in February, the district and the parents engaged in mediation with Schatz participating.

The requests of the parents were reasonable, according to Schatz. They asked for teacher training, better control in the classroom, and protection for Jewish teachers and students. The Philadelphia School District did not agree to those requests, and the mediation ended. She expressed profound disappointment with the lack of response from the district and said she has “never felt so unprotected, scared, or angry.”

The parent requests also appear reasonable in light of a recent Office of Civil Rights investigation into the Red Clay Consolidated School District, located in nearby New Castle County, Delaware. In this case that settled in January 2024, one Jewish student was subjected to repeated harassment and the OCR found that the district’s response was lacking.

“While the district responded to most harassing incidents the student experienced, these responses were often haphazard; were inconsistently enforced as well as inconsistently reflected in district documentation; did not consistently include effective or timely steps to mitigate the effects of the harassment on the student or other students; and did not appear to respond to escalating and repeated incidents.”

Red Clay Consolidated School District agreed to ten conditions in order to resolve the complaint. These include anti-discrimination training for all staff, investigatory training for staff who handle complaints, and age-appropriate informational programs for students at the school to address discrimination, including harassment based on shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics. Other conditions include a review of policies, an audit of complaints in the 2023-24 school year, and a climate survey with students. 

With the growing political divide over the war and ensuing antisemitism, a suburban, public school, Jewish teacher contacted me about a highly polarizing survey distributed by the National Education Association (NEA) to its members. The survey asks teachers to rate this statement based on how concerning it is to them.

“Biden has given Benjamin Netanyahu billions of dollars in weapons, including 2,000 pound bombs that have killed tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza. He continues to support Israel’s war in Gaza even though they’ve killed 14,000 children and babies and children are starving to death.”

The teacher who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation was offended and appalled by the question. When asked if they think the question is related to antisemitism in schools, they said, “we need unity right now, and all this kind of survey item promotes is division. By sending this survey item to teachers in particular, a natural and unfortunate consequence is a sustained deepening of this division as the sentiments are passed down to our kids.”

The teacher noted the hypocrisy of the question. “With the wording in the survey item on Israel, especially without a disclaimer of any sort provided from the outset, NEA leadership fails to create the same kind of inviting and inclusive space they expect their teachers to build within their classrooms. In other words, they don’t practice what they preach. As someone who especially prides themself in creating a comfortable environment for all of my students, I expect the same treatment from the union leaders of our nation.”

The political divide on the war should not be an excuse for tolerating antisemitism in any form in our public and private schools or universities. As Schatz said, “Jews hold many different viewpoints, and they just get lumped together. Even Jews in Israel have varied opinions.”

The Philadelphia School District and other schools in the region and country should take a stronger stand on harassment and discrimination of Jewish students and teachers. Elected officials and school administrators have a moral and a legal obligation to ensure that schools are safe for all children and teachers. Safety in the classroom should not be a political or election issue.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

2 thoughts on “Beth Ann Rosica: Antisemitism is an issue beyond college campuses”

  1. How does one deny geography? Wishes, dreams, fantasies, and hate don’t change it. If you can’t get by your bigotry and hatred, find another line of work rather than teaching. This example and the actions of the Philadelphia School District, along with many other in this country, illustrate why our young are so badly education and why there is so much hate and division in our country.

  2. It sure is an issue beyond campuses! Of course, the current POTUS has condemned the college protests when they’ve veered into antisemitism, calling out a “ferocious surge of antisemitism” on the fringe left since 10/7 and in return has been literally cursed out and protested by them. Meanwhile his opponent has mainstreamed antisemitism in his party by, among other things, refusing to turn down KKK leader David Duke’s support, enjoying company with his dinner buddies Kanye “I like Hitler” West and holocaust denier Nick Fuentes who, among other things, laments that our government is “occupied by Jews”. And in return, antisemites love him back!!!!

    And now that Republicans all of a sudden care about antisemitism, maybe they can finally clarify something for me: when he said that some of the violent, murderous thugs in Charlottesville were “very fine people” was he referring to the folks waving swastikas while chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” or was he “only” referring to the antisemites who came from all over the country in order to (in their own words) “unite” with the Nazis?

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