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Hearing Recap: K-12 Antisemitism Edition

Today, the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee tackled one of the most shocking and disheartening consequences of October 7: the rise of antisemitism in K-12 schools. 
Like a virus, antisemitism has infected every level of learning, from university campuses to elementary school classrooms. It should have no foothold in the American school system.

Chairman Aaron Bean (R-FL) used his opening statement to define the stakes. “This is the moment for all of us to take a stand against hate, against the indoctrination and radicalization of the next generation of our future leaders," said Chairman Bean.

Leaders from major public-school districts beset by the worst incidents of antisemitism testified, including Mr. David Banks, Chancellor of New York City Public Schools (NYCPS), New York City Department of Education; Ms. Karla Silvestre, President of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Montgomery County Public Schools; and Ms. Enikia Ford Morthel, Superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).

Action and outcomes were two themes that carried the day. Talk is cheap, and the moment demands that school leaders discipline the teachers and students who are perpetrating antisemitic harassment.

Rep. Brandon Williams (R-NY) called on Mr. Banks to account for the outbreak of antisemitism at Hillcrest High School, where students led a two-hour riot and threatened a Jewish teacher. Mr. Banks previously testified that he had taken disciplinary actions in response to the incident, including “removing” the principal.

“Is the former principal at Hillcrest still drawing a salary from New York City Public Schools today?” asked Rep. Williams.

“Yes, he is,” replied Mr. Banks, surprising the room.

“How can Jewish students feel safe at New York City Public Schools when you can’t even manage to terminate the principal of ‘open season on Jews’ high school,” said Rep. Williams, continuing, “How can Jewish students go to school knowing he’s still on your payroll?”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) concurred, adding, “What’s very concerning about these hearings is that we are getting lip-service but a lack of accountability and these rules and policies matter whether it is teachers, administrators, or students violating the rules.”

With his questioning, Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) probed the underlying reasons for widespread antisemitism in K-12 schools. He pointed to curriculum available in BUSD that teaches children that “for some Palestinians, ‘From the River to the Sea’ is a call for freedom and peace.”

He asked Ms. Ford Morthel if the slide was appropriate, keeping in mind that she had earlier testified that the chant was antisemitic. After a winding answer, she concluded, “If it was presented as a perspective, I do think it was appropriate.” 
Rep. Kiley then stated the obvious, “You put this on a slide in the classroom and then students go around in the halls saying it. I don’t think there’s anything surprising about that.”

Finally, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Kathy Manning (D-NC) came together from different sides of the aisle to offer a similar solution to the scourge of antisemitism. Rep. Manning urged teaching children to be “savvy critical consumers,” and Rep. Walberg implored the educators to “teach critical thinking.”

On this issue, both sides agree. One of the best ways to fight hate and ignorance is with reason and education.

Bottom Line: The Committee is fighting against antisemitism and for Jewish students at all levels of education.
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