House Republicans will turn to K-12 schools in latest antisemitism probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — The leaders of three large public school systems will appear before Congress on Wednesday to answer questions about how they have handled incidents of antisemitism on their school campuses.

The witnesses scheduled to testify before a House Education and Workforce subcommittee represent New York City Public Schools, the Berkeley Unified School District in California and the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland.

The hearing comes amid a series of inquiries by the Republican-led committee into how universities have responded to pro-Palestinian student protests on campuses.

Those earlier hearings have been heated — the first in December precipitated the resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently, the testimony of Columbia University’s president, Minouche Shafik, escalated into weeks of protests that spread beyond her campus to colleges across the country.

Wednesday’s hearing will be the first to focus on K-12 schools.

Speaking to reporters last week, David Banks, the chancellor of New York City Public Schools, acknowledged that the school system had not been perfect in handling issues in schools that have emerged since the start of the Israel-Hamas war but that he was proud of how leadership had responded.

Banks said he would not be defensive in his appearance before the panel but seemed critical of how previous hearings had quickly been reduced to viral moments and video clips.

“I fundamentally believe that if we truly care about solving for antisemitism, you don’t do it through cheap political theater and cheap soundbites,” he said. “Putting a spotlight on any particular individual and sometimes trying to create gotcha moments and viral moments is not how you ultimately solve problems you deeply care about.”

Both New York City and Montgomery Public Schools are subjects of Education Department civil rights investigations into allegations of antisemitism. Both cases center on whether the districts responded to harassment of students in a manner consistent with Title VI, which prevents harassment based on shared ancestry. Karla Silvestre, the board president of Montgomery County Public Schools, was scheduled to testify at the hearing.

In February, the Brandeis Center, a Jewish legal advocacy organization, filed a complaint with the department’s Office of Civil Rights, citing incidents of bullying and harassment of Jewish students in the Berkeley district, including one instance where the phrase “Kill Jews” was found written in a high school bathroom.

In a statement, the district said Berkeley Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel “did not seek this invitation” but would testify.

“Berkeley Unified celebrates our diversity and stands against all forms of hate and othering, including antisemitism and Islamophobia,” the statement said. “We strive every day to ensure that our classrooms are respectful, humanizing, and joyful places for all our students, where they are welcomed, seen, valued, and heard.”

All three districts, in predominantly liberal areas, have diverse student populations and a sizeable Jewish American community.

School leaders will also likely face questions on issues of free speech and how much oversight is given to teachers’ actions, including on their personal social media presence outside of school.

In a lawsuit filed against Montgomery County Public Schools by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, three teachers alleged the district placed them on leave and investigated them because they expressed pro-Palestinian sentiments, some of which were on their personal social media pages.

Student-led Pro-Palestinian protests have taken place in high schools across the country, including in the three districts that will appear before Congress. The demonstrations include walkouts during school hours, and like their college counterparts, include the question of whether certain phrases, including “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”, which can mean widely different things to different groups, cross the line into antisemitism.


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