Lawmakers hold hearing about rise in antisemitism in K-12 schools

WASHINGTON D.C. — Hate chants in school hallways. Students doing the Nazi salute. These are just some of the hate incidents lawmakers say have been happening in some K-12 public schools since the October 7 Hamas attack against Israel.

It was the focus of a House subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

“Students marched through the halls, disrupting class chanting, ‘kill the Jews,’” said subcommittee Chairman Rep. Aaron Bean (R-FL) about reported incidents in NYC. “One student was caught on security camera appearing as Hitler forming a Nazi salute. Three swastikas were drawn on teachers’ walls in one week.”

“We must do more to protect Jewish students and Jewish Americans who are threatened and harassed and attacked because of who they are,” said Ranking Member Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).  “At the same time, we must do more to address the rise in Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination and hate as well.”

The panel heard from public school officials about the skyrocketing reports of hate incidents.

“We’ve had 281 incidents since October 7,” said David Banks, Chancellor of New York City Public Schools. “Approximately 42 percent were antisemitic, and 30 percent were Islamophobic. So, this is an issue that ranges on both sides.”

When questioned about how he’s handled the hate incidents, Banks said they have fired and disciplined some staff members and have disciplined students.

“We have removed, disciplined, or are in the process of disciplining at least a dozen staff and school leaders, including removing a principal in the middle of a school year,” said Banks. “We have suspended at least 30 students. We’ve involved the NYPD when hate crimes are committed.”

President of the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland, Karla Silvestre, said starting this summer, all staff will have mandatory hate-bias training.

“The suffering caused by antisemitism and hate, and racism interferes with students’ learning and well-being,” said Silvestre.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cautioned lawmakers and school officials to balance protecting free speech with protecting people from threats.

“It is a bedrock constitutional principle that outside of school, government may not penalize speech because listeners find it offensive or disagreeable,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Emerson Sykes in his testimony. “Inside school, however, under the Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District… authorities may punish any student speech that leads to or might lead to “substantial disruption” – even if the disruption is caused by others who find the idea expressed offensive or disagreeable.”

With the conversation focused on our schools, school leaders said teaching kids not to hate is essential to breaking the cycle.

“The true anecdote to ignorance and bias is to teach,” said Banks. “Our students cannot grow up to view anyone as the other.”

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