BY FREDA MIKLIN
When photos of two students at Campus Middle School (CMS) with swastikas drawn on them spread through the community on the day the school presented a program about the Holocaust recently, it led to the reporting of other acts of antisemitism at that school and at West Middle School (WMS).
The May 8 regular meeting of the Cherry Creek Schools Board of Education (CCSD) drew nearly 100 students, parents, and community members, as well as the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region (ADL), to publicly report about these incidents and demand that CCSD take necessary actions to create a safe environment for its Jewish students.
The first mother to speak reported that her daughter was taunted with negative Jewish stereotypes and told, “Hitler didn’t do a good enough job.” She said other children felt that they had to hide their Jewish identity to avoid being targeted and that the board needs to “address the system and rampant antisemitism so that our children will feel safe again.”
Another said her two sons at WMS “were Nazi-saluted, called (a slur for Jewish people), and told to take German showers,” adding, “During the Kanye West antisemitic media coverage, there were chants of support in the hallway for Kanye and his views (that) terrified our kids; they did not feel safe at school.” After that, she said, she and her husband noticed that their sons’ attitude about their faith changed. “They became self-deprecating about being Jewish, in order to be part of the joke and not the butt of it.”
The next mother said her daughter was taunted with Nazi salutes by two boys at CMS. After reporting the incident to school administrators, the girl and a friend who was with her when it happened, reviewed hallway security footage and identified the boys by their yearbook photos. But, the mother reported, the boys received only a warning “because the footage was blurry,” and, “CMS was concerned about legal ramifications.” In her view, whatever programming is currently being used to address bigotry is not working and, “Antisemitism must be called what it is, not the generic ‘hate speech.’”
A sixth-grade student who attends CMS told the school board about a conversation she had with a classmate whose 8th-grade brother had been disciplined for making antisemitic remarks. When she told her classmate that behavior was wrong and she was Jewish, he said, “You should go back to the gas chamber, too.” After reporting the incident, she said she did not feel safe at school because it did not appear that her classmate had suffered any consequences for his action. She got visibly upset as she recounted what happened and had to leave the room.
Ido, an eighth grader, said he came from a Jewish day school in California where he only knew antisemitism “as a theory,” but has “experienced it multiple times” since coming to CMS. “I was told I need to leave this school because I’m Jewish,” he said. He was given a Nazi salute and invited to participate in a game with the words, “Come play basketball with us, you Jew.”
In class, Ido said, “The school teaches about World War II but doesn’t mention one of the biggest genocides in history. Is the brutal execution and torture of six million Jews not significant enough during World War II studies? International Holocaust Day isn’t even mentioned…Jews are only 2.4% of the population in the United States, yet over 55% of the hate crimes are against Jews. Extreme situations require extreme actions. At WMS, kids drew swastikas on notebooks and on lockers. At CMS, it was on kids’ hands. What else needs to happen for something serious to take place? I thought I’d be the only one here talking about antisemitism. It’s unfortunate so many people have these issues.”
Scott Levin, regional director of the ADL, told the school board that there were 490 reported incidents of antisemitism in K-12 schools last year, up 49% from the year earlier. He acknowledged the administration of CMS in seeking out programming for its students, but since it’s the end of the school year, it is unlikely anything would happen. He asked the school board to be proactive, pointing out, “If we’re trying to change the culture and climate around antisemitism, we can’t wait to do it until after these incidents take place.”
CCSD board member Kristin Allen and Superintendent Chris Smith addressed the issue of school safety as it relates to these types of incidents directly. We will have more about what they said next week.