A few days ago, Reiko Fuentes, the principal of Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, a Toronto high school with a considerable number of Jewish students, took it upon herself to remove a Jewish Heritage Month banner from the main foyer of the mid-town school. She did this without bothering to consult the students who had been given permission by Fuentes to place it the foyer.
Astonishingly enough, she removed the banner because it resembled the flag of Israel and was thus “too controversial.” The Toronto District School Board, much to its discredit, upheld her bizarre and high-handed decision.
The banner was then placed in the school library.
To no one’s surprise, some parents objected. “The principal’s decision to remove the banner is totally unacceptable,” said Yoel Elfassy. “She has no right to tell Jewish students to remove Israel from their heritage.”
When Elfassy asked Fuentes to explain her decision, she replied, “I don’t understand why you have to use the Israel flag when there are Jews all over the world.”
As might have been expected, B’nai Brith was also outraged. “Jewish Heritage Month is supposed to symbolize the acceptance and inclusion of Jewish students and teachers in Toronto schools,” said Michael Mostyn, the chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada.
The outpouring of indignation has had the desired effect.
On May 23, the Toronto District School Board, having mulled the matter carefully, announced that the banner had been put back in the front foyer. Its statement read: “Some members of the school community expressed concerns about the banner and the use of the Israeli flag. As a result, it was removed and then subsequently relocated to the library where Holocaust survivors were speaking with students. It has since been placed back in the school’s front foyer, and we apologize for any misunderstanding or hurt that may have been caused by the initial decision.”
Communications officer Ryan Bird added that, in the future, “staff will have conversations with students to ensure they feel safe and welcome.” An assembly was held on May 24 “to continue the discussion.”
In the wake of this unfortunate incident, a few observations are in order.
First, Fuentes had no right whatsoever to decree that the Magen David is “controversial.” For the vast majority of Jewish students, the Israeli flag is deeply meaningful, an integral component of their Jewish identity. Fuentes, having been presumably influenced by anti-Israel propaganda, was totally insensitive to their values and needs.
Second, in light of the fact that a high proportion of its student body is Jewish, Fuentes should have had the sense to discuss the issue with Jewish Heritage Month organizers before cavalierly removing the banner.
Third, the Toronto District School Board showed a glaring lack of sound judgment in endorsing Fuentes’ ill-advised, hasty decision.
One can only hope that lessons have been learned from this fiasco.