Diane Gensler
Hadassah Educators Council

Fighting Antisemitism in America’s Public School Systems: A Losing Battle Part 4

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

This is Part Four of a multi-part series on fighting antisemitism in America’s public school systems.

It is distressing to all parents when a child is bullied or targeted in any way. Unfortunately, as the Hamas-Israel War rages on, many Jewish students all over the world are feeling vulnerable to such harassment, not only on college campuses, but in our elementary, middle and high schools, as well.

Recently, there was a serious incident in my children’s Maryland public school. A friend’s daughter’s life was threatened online. The perpetrator, someone who had been banned from the school (maybe a former student), sent the girl a photograph of a gun and wrote that he was coming for her and all the Jews. (She showed me the photo and social media post on her phone.)

The police got involved and visited the harasser’s home, but he was not there. As far as I know, the police neither caught him nor continued to search for him.

Though the incident wasn’t widely reported by the media or publicized in any other way, the administration, which could not ignore a threat to a student’s life, sent the following letter to parents:

November 8, 2023

Dear Parents and Guardians of (Name of School),

I would like to address recent reports brought to our attention regarding inappropriate social media posts. School administration was made aware of threatening and hateful comments, including making antisemitic statements and referring to others as terrorists.

We immediately called the (County) Police Department as well as (School System) Department of School Safety. (County) police department and our administration investigated the concerns and worked to gather information, identify those involved where possible, and make reports to have the posts removed.

In accordance with Board policy (#) (Name of School) ‘prohibits the use of language and/or the display of images and symbols which promote hate, racial or ethnic violence or intimidation,’ we expect all of our students to take part in creating a welcoming, safe and inclusive culture and environment that reflects and supports the diversity of the student population, their families and their communities. This includes making good choices about what they say online.

This is an important reminder for all of us – students and parents alike – to inform school staff or police any time you or your child sees, hears, or reads anything that is suspicious or that may pose a threat to the school or its students. We all have a role to play in ensuring that our school remains a safe and secure learning environment for our children.

We are disappointed that some students have made a poor decision to post negative and hateful speech on social media. I ask that you speak with your child(ren) and remind them that threatening and inappropriate statements of any kind (including those made outside of school or on social media) will not be tolerated.

Any students found to be involved in making threats will face appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with the Student handbook and Policy, and the consequences for such behavior may include suspension from school. Please monitor your child’s social media activity and remind them of the importance of making good choices on and offline.

I want you to be assured that the safety of our students is our top priority. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the school.

(Name and Signature)

I appreciated that the administrators sent the letter, though I would have prioritized the threatening and antisemitic comments rather than the “inappropriate social media posts,” which could refer to any number of things.

I never found out if the perpetrator was a student in our school system, but I suppose that even if he’s being homeschooled, if he lives in our district he is one of our students. While the letter lists school suspension as a consequence for his actions, it’s possible he had already been suspended or even expelled.

No doubt the letter was written on the advice of legal counsel since the administrators note the specific statutes that were violated. But I take issue with the letter for saying that the offending student would face appropriate disciplinary action when, in reality, that never happened because he was not located. I wonder if this case would have been pursued further if this young man had threatened administrators or others in the community. Why was this case dropped? This matter demands more attention, especially if this “unbalanced” individual possesses a gun.

If I were the one being threatened, I wouldn’t feel safe knowing this person has not been caught. I worry whether our children are safe when other kids are allowed to get away with these behaviors.

I’m left to ruminate on another example of antisemitism in our school system and of justice not delivered.

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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