Categories: News

Westfield Schools Shaken By Outbreaks of Anti-Semitism

(Photo courtesy of TapInto.)

This past August, in wealthy Westfield, residents were shocked to find a swastika etched into playground equipment  in a townpark. This past November Westfield church-goers noticed antisemitic literature placed in the pews with a note threatening harm if it was not distributed. In December police and school district officials found themselves investigating both a racial slur carved in a girls bathroom stall at Westfield High School and a swastika in another. A few days later they found two more swastikas.  Principal Mary Asfendis confirmed there is “a pervasive problem of antisemitism and intolerance at our high school.” Throughout NJ, hate crimes are up; 27% of them occur in schools.

Gov. Murphy tweeted,

Two and a half percent of Westfield residents are Jewish. Four percent are Black.

In the past two weeks 900 residents have signed a petition demanding improvements to Holocaust education in the school district’s nine schools that educate about 5,800 students. In response, last week Andrea Brennan, Westfield’s’ K-12 supervisor of social studies, unveiled a new initiative to improve how the  teaches students about racism and anti-semitism.

The district promises to:

  • Refine common experiences across buildings and grade spans.
  • Develop common lessons in middle school social studies (grades 6, 7,8)
  • Creating an interdisciplinary mini unit for grade 8 social studies/English language arts
  • Share best practices for teaching the Holocaust in grade 11 social studies
  • Develop an elective course on holocaust and genocide studies for high school students (grades 10-12)

“There’s also a need to focus on antisemitism, I think, the symbols of hate as well as how to combat hate,” Brennan said. “Those will be the things that will guide our future conversations and our future initiatives.”

Julie Steinberg, the parent of two children in the Westfield School District who posted a petition calling for improvements to Holocaust education, told TAPinto Westfield she is pleased with the district’s pledge to improve Holocaust education programming.

“I am glad that they are making efforts to move forward to improve Holocaust education programs, and am particularly gratified to see the commitment to add an elective at [Westfield High School].

The New Jersey Student Learning Standards, the state’s version of the Common Core, requires that Holocaust studies emphasize “reducing bias, bullying and prejudice in our schools, building the capacity for students to understand that prejudice and discrimination may lead to genocide,” It also calls for remembrance of victims and survivors of the Nazi shoah. 

Parents who attended the meeting expressed hope that the district’s audit of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion curriculum would include a review of Holocaust education.

Staff Writer

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