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Diane Gensler
Hadassah Educators Council

Fighting Antisemitism in American Public Schools: A Losing Battle, Part Two

Image courtesy of the author who created the cartoon from images on Rawpixel.com on Freepik.com, Deviantart.com and Vecteezy.com.
Image courtesy of the author who created the cartoon from images on Rawpixel.com on Freepik.com, Deviantart.com and Vecteezy.com.

This is Part Two of a multi-part series on fighting antisemitism in America’s public school systems. You can find Part One here.

 Well before the events of October 7, 2023, Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, issued a policy statement which says, “Education is widely recognized, including by the UN, as the key to combating prejudice, fostering intercultural exchange and promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups.”

It doesn’t appear that schools within the Maryland public school system are interested in achieving any of these noble goals that everyone should strive toward.

While I was writing Part One of this blog series, Maryland’s Montgomery County Sentinel published an article entitled MCPS Sees Rise in Antisemitism from Staff, Students. Apparently, in separate instances, two teachers in MCPS posted antisemitic content. The first teacher claims that Palestinians’ organs are being harvested by Israelis and that the October 7th attack on the Nova music festival in the south of Israel never happened, as the claim of an attack was a hoax.

An email response from the school system suggests that these teachers don’t identify themselves as MCPS employees when they post. Excuse me? Is it okay to post this type of information if you are a schoolteacher as long as you don’t identify yourself as one?

According to the same article,
“Rising antisemitism in MCPS is not just limited to these staff members but spread through students as well. On Nov. 7th, a walkout took place at Clarksburg High School. This walkout was put on by the school’s Muslim Student Association and SGA, according to Montgomery Community Media. This walkout was also supported and promoted by the principal of Clarksburg at the time, Edward Owusu. At this walkout, one sign read “Resistance till Liberation,” and there were more that some have interpreted as antisemitic and anti-Israel.

Principal Owusu emailed the school that students would be allowed to miss class for this walkout and shared information about the event. Since this event, Owusu has retired as principal of Clarksburg but stated the reason for his retirement is to emphasize his family. ‘Students will be demonstrating to voice their concerns about the conflict in the Middle East, in support of Palestine. Participation in this demonstration is optional (not mandatory) and has been approved by school leadership. Absences due to the participation in the walk-out will be excused,’ Owusu wrote.

This letter also contrasts with MCPS’s formal policy on walkouts. ‘Any walk-out or departure from campus during the instructional day will be treated as an unexcused absence, given the disruptive impact on school operations,’ MCPS states in the Student Guide to Rights and Responsibilities.”

At Maryland’s Clarksburg High School, the students had the principal’s support, encouragement and permission to break the rules. The article also says the walkout was staged by the MSA and the Student Government Association (SGA) — the kids who help “govern” the school. Those are the student leaders!

Their MSA went a step further (multiple steps further, literally and figuratively) than the MSA students at my children’s school who staged a silent protest.

I now realize what is worse than our students’ not receiving a decent education – It is having students “mis-educated” by the leaders they respect. At the rate we’re going, the MCPS would not have a problem with students’ launching groups like Hitler youth, G-d forbid.

These incidents must be stopped. The MCPS and other public school systems need to step up. Silence, walkouts and other non-productive behavior are not the answer. We need those who are entrusted with our kids’ education to teach them the values of empathy, understanding, respect and collaboration. They — and we — must teach future generations how to value diversity, overcome our differences and negotiate peace.

After all, what’s more important than our children?

Author’s Note:  My next blog post will continue my exploration of rising antisemitism in the Maryland public school system. According to CBS News, since 2022, there has been a 98 percent rise in antisemitism incidents in Maryland, one of 31 states without Holocaust Education legislation. Currently, there are Holocaust Education bills languishing in both Maryland’s House and Senate. Hadassah has been leading a national fight against antisemitism and Hadassah Advocacy can connect you to your local, regional and/or national representatives so that you can enlist their support for this important legislation. 

About the Author
Diane Gensler is a Life Member of Hadassah Baltimore, a member of the Hadassah Educators Council and the Hadassah Writers' Circle, and a lay leader in her synagogue. She is the author of Forgive Us Our Trespasses: A Memoir of a Jewish Teacher in a Catholic School (Apprentice House Press, 2020) and occasionally writes articles for organizations of which she is a member, such as the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland. She is a certified English and special education teacher. In addition to teaching in public and private schools, she developed educational software, tutored online and wrote and managed online curriculum. She is a Maryland Writing Project Teacher Consultant and a mentor. A native Baltimorean and mother of three, she leads the Baltimore Jewish Writers Guild and holds volunteer positions in her children’s schools and activities.
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