Federal complaint filed against School District of Philadelphia alleging antisemitism

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Friday, May 10, 2024
Federal complaint filed against Philly schools alleging antisemitism
Federal complaint filed against School District of Philadelphia alleging antisemitism

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The School District of Philadelphia is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights after some parents in the district filed a complaint regarding alleged acts of antisemitism.

According to the School District of Philadelphia Jewish Family Association, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened an investigation into the district on April 9.

In the complaint, the association claimed that since the war, "...the District has stood idly by while its teachers and administrators have attacked Israel, Jewish people, and "Zionists," both in the classroom and from their public social media."

Representatives with the association said they have repeatedly tried to reach out to district officials to discuss the situation, but they have not heard back from anyone.

"It's really just been so many incidents that have gone on since October 7 and nobody has really been doing anything about it at all," Jason Holtzman, director of JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told Action News.

The complaint documents almost two dozen incidents of alleged antisemitism within the school district. One of them happened last week.

"We are aware of a recent incident in a classroom where a teacher crossed out 'Israel' and wrote 'Palestine,'" Holtzman said.

According to the complaint, that happened in a sixth-grade class at Baldi Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia on May 2. The geography lesson included an exercise where students label countries using a list of names of countries, continents, and bodies of water. The complaint states the teacher crossed out "Israel" and instead wrote "Palestine" next to the redacted text.

The next day, the principal at Baldi sent a letter to sixth-grade families about the incident. It stated, "This incident has deeply offended many of our students, staff and parents. I want to be crystal clear that this incident is unacceptable and we are currently looking into it."

The Office of Civil Rights complaint details other incidents, including a swastika that was drawn on one of the doors at Masterman in Spring Garden.

It also includes screenshots taken at Penn Alexander in West Philadelphia. They show a computer game students were able to access in class. One question in the game asks, "What do we hate? Two right answers." The correct responses were "pork" and Israel."

The school district told Action News it cannot comment on the pending investigation.

This week, the district sent a letter to families. It reads in part, "The violence in the Middle East region is heartbreaking... Our foremost concern is the mental and physical well-being of everyone. We will continue to maintain a District-wide community where staff and students can process, exercise empathy, learn about the historical context and access resources."

Holtzman said members of the city's Jewish community are asking for more to be done.

"Everyone who has skin in the game, we should be sitting together and talking this out instead of blocking each other, intimidating people, and scapegoating an entire community because we don't like their views," said Holtzman.

He added, "We need a process of education, and we need to see a school where there is an atmosphere and dialogue happening and where there is not an intimidation of Jewish students."