House Republicans to Examine K-12 Schools in Latest Antisemitism Hearing

House Republicans to Examine K-12 Schools in Latest Antisemitism Hearing

House Republicans will hold a hearing on Wednesday morning looking for the first time into accusations of antisemitism in elementary and secondary schools since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

District leaders from three politically liberal regions across the country — New York City, Berkeley, Calif., and Montgomery County, Md. — are expected to testify before members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The House, which is controlled by Republicans, has already held two contentious hearings on antisemitism in higher education, which helped lead to the toppling of Claudine Gay, Harvard’s president, and M. Elizabeth Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania.

But the district leaders — David Banks, chancellor of New York City schools; Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of Berkeley schools; and Karla Silvestre, the school board president in Montgomery County — face different issues than college leaders.

Unlike college faculty members, public schoolteachers do not have broad rights to academic freedom and are expected to hew to curriculum standards set by their states and school districts.

Committee members may grill the school leaders on their handling of several incidents from their districts, including students who are accused of shouting, “Kill the Jews,” and lesson plans that referred to Israeli “apartheid,” as well as a classroom map of the “Arab world” that did not include a label for “Israel,” calling the country “Palestine.”

Representative Kevin Kiley, Republican of California and a member of the committee, said the hearing on K-12 education would focus, in part, on what has happened within classrooms — “actual curriculum or lessons where students are being instructed in one-sided ways, or worse than that.”

The three districts all serve diverse student bodies and have significant numbers of Jewish students. Their schools also embrace some practices that Republicans oppose, from diversity, equity and inclusion programs to classes in ethnic studies, which have sometimes become venues for heavily disputed lessons on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The school leaders are expected to face questions on a broad range of accusations made by some Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, who have filed complaints to the U.S. Department of Education, saying that the districts violated federal civil rights laws by allowing a hostile climate for Jewish students.

The organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Brandeis Center and the Zionist Organization of America, are asking administrators to take tougher action in response to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity, including suspensions for students and terminations for teachers.

The groups have objected to some incidents that lie in legal gray areas, such as whether districts can or should respond when teachers criticize Israel on their personal social media pages.

The organizations are also asking school districts to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which characterizes much criticism of Israel as antisemitic. The House of Representatives passed legislation last week requiring the U.S. Department of Education to use that definition when investigating civil rights complaints.

“The reality in modern antisemitism is the bulk of the attacks are not necessarily against Jews as a religion. They’re against Jews as a people, an ethnicity, and their connection to Israel,” said James Pasch, senior director for national litigation at the Anti-Defamation League.

An alternative definition of antisemitism, known as the Jerusalem Declaration, is more tolerant of anti-Israel protest, and tends to be preferred by Jewish groups on the left.

In all three school districts, there has been deep disagreement as to when criticism of Israel veers into antisemitism.

Ahead of the hearing, a group of 150 Jewish community members in Montgomery County called on Ms. Silvestre to defend students’ and teachers’ rights to free speech.

“Criticism of the state and government of Israel or of Zionism certainly troubles some Jewish students, while others embrace it,” the community members said in a statement. “This diversity of expression is what makes our community strong.”

Muslim and pro-Palestinian organizations have also said that many public schools are hostile to their views, whether by omitting Palestinian history from the curriculum or disciplining teachers for pro-Palestinian speech.

In Montgomery County, several teachers were suspended after making statements either critical of Israel or in support of Palestinian rights.

Emerson Sykes, an attorney and First Amendment expert at the A.C.L.U., will also testify at the hearing at the invitation of Democrats, who have said they seek to hold schools accountable for antisemitism while also protecting free speech.

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