Diane Gensler
Hadassah Educators Council

Fighting Antisemitism in America’s Public School System: A Losing Battle, Part 3

Image courtesy of the author who created the cartoon from images on on, and
Image courtesy of the author who created the cartoon from images on on, and

As I was working on Part Two of this series, I read in The Baltimore Sun about yet another conflict taking place in a Maryland school that was triggered by the Hamas-Israel War. A special education teacher had filed a complaint through the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) against the Anne Arundel County Public Schools claiming that an email another teacher had written and sent to all of the staff was biased with regard to the war.

Apparently, the letter that disturbed this special education teacher mentioned teacher resources for discussing the war that she considered prejudicial. CAIR claimed in its complaint that the resources, which were provided by the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, “showed a clear bias that results in a hostile work environment for anyone who identifies with Palestinian Muslims.”

What teacher resources were provided in this email? According to CBS News, “the resources were links to the education platforms Discovery Education and Newsela.” I wondered how these two resources could cause a hostile work environment. It seemed to me that multiple viewpoints about the Hamas-Israel War should be presented to students.

I imagine that the teacher who objected to the resources believed that she had done the right thing. Did she, though? Or did she overreact? Was this really about Islamophobia, as she claimed, or about something else? The Baltimore Sun reported:

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, the Muslim advocacy organization that filed the complaint, the teacher was concerned that the email’s framing of the conflict would direct students to assume ‘this was a military battle like any other classic war,’ without consideration of Israel’s ‘indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Palestine.’

This quote shows her bias and leans toward antisemitism. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is not targeting civilians in Gaza. The IDF is targeting Hamas terrorists. Yes, tragically, many civilians have suffered or died as a result, but they are not being indiscriminately attacked.

The teacher who claimed the resources were biased is under investigation by the school system because she sent her email to all of the school staff even though she had been told not to do so by the principal. She ignored the directive. That’s insubordination.

Instead of owning up to her mistake and realizing there were other actions she could have taken (such as contacting the school board or her union), she maintained that she was standing up for what was right. Her exact quote as she spoke to the press was: “Let me first make myself crystal clear. I do not need approval to oppose inflammatory, non-factual language and discriminatory practices, especially if it is to protect myself, other staff who may have been too afraid to speak up and my students.”

I’m wondering how she would react if a Jewish student in her classroom stood up and publicly accused her of bias against Israel. Would she acknowledge that the student had a right to speak out, since, in her view, no one needs approval to oppose discriminatory practices?

In her press conference, the teacher then went on to say that, like her, some of her coworkers have sent emails for which they did not seek the administration approval and for which the coworkers have not been reprimanded. This reminds me of when my kids say, “Well it’s okay, because so-and-so did it too.” Not a viable excuse!

In the same press conference, the teacher said, “Acknowledging atrocities, whether they are on a local or an international level, forces you to use your voice. Amplifying the voices of any oppressed group is not only your right, but a cause to wear with a badge of honor.”

Yes, I agree. But has she acknowledged any other atrocities worldwide? Has she acknowledged the atrocities of Hamas?

In a sense, this teacher is emulating the insurrectionists of January 6, 2021, who laid siege to the US Capitol in an attempt to stop the country’s constitutional election process. They claimed they were on the side of justice. This teacher claimed the same.

“Let this be a teachable moment for you that staying silent and complicit leaves a harmful psychological imprint,” she said. I find her statement ironic since her supposed teachable moment was not a role model for appropriate behavior. The psychological imprint she left on her students was confusion or, worse, a misguided sense of right and wrong.

How will our children ever learn what is appropriate when there is such chaos, confusion, tumult and bad behavior in our schools coming from the adults?

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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