While antisemitism and Islamophobia have been getting more attention on college campuses, an ongoing series of disturbing incidents is also disrupting K12 schools as war rages in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
“School grounds are supposed to be places where people from all backgrounds, faiths and beliefs feel safe and welcome,” Melinda Person, president of the New York State United Teachers union, said in a statement this week. “Such expressions of hatred violate core American values of inclusivity and respect and are unacceptable everywhere.”
In Florida, a torn Israeli flag was found at Equestrian Trails Elementary School, which is part of the Palm Beach County School District, WPBF reported. School police are investigating the incident, the district told parents in a message distributed last week.
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“I want to assure you that your children are safe. Our district takes a strict stance against antisemitic activity and is committed to educating our students with a deeper understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, intolerance, and stereotyping,” Principal Michele Chorniewy said in the statement, according to WPBF. “It is crucial that every student and staff member feels safe on a school campus.”
Swastikas were found drawn onto a desk and a bathroom wall at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools, WUSA9 reported. The school is investigating and, in a message to the community, Principal Douglas Nelson said the community is already experiencing “elevated concern.”
“These hateful actions make us feel targeted and unsafe,” Nelson said, according to WUSA9.
A swastika and other offensive graffiti were discovered recently at two middle schools and a high school in Greenwich, Connecticut, per the Greenwich Time. Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent Toni Jones warned that police would become involved if any “violence or belligerence” occurs, the newspaper added.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona warned schools this week that they could lose federal funding if they don’t respond adequately to antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents. He told CNN that the agency’s Office of Civil Rights had received “eight or nine” complaints about antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents on school campuses since early October.
The Office of Civil Rights also issued a letter to schools noting an “alarming rise” in threats to Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students and reminding K12 leaders of their specific legal obligations to protect students from all forms of discrimination. “Jewish students, Israeli students, Muslim students, Arab students, Palestinian students, and all other students who reside within our school communities have the right to learn in our nation’s schools free from discrimination,” the letter says.
New Jersey officials are also urging schools to respond “immediately” to antisemitic or Islamophobic incidents.
“There has been a marked increase in bias targeting Jewish and Muslim community members in K-12 schools and on college and university campuses across our state,” Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Sundeep Iyer, director of the Division on Civil Rights, wrote in a statement. “The rise in bias in our schools threatens the safe educational environment to which all our students are entitled.”