Alameda Schools Struck Again by Anti-Semitism 

Despite the district's "Everyone Belongs Here" campaign, students have found more swastikas and hate speech at Alameda High.

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"And if you compare the school's response to the swastikas found at the school to their immediate reaction to a noose, which was found on Encinal Avenue near the high school in September, in which robo-calls and emails were sent to the school community within a couple of hours and counseling was offered to anyone who needed it, it's clear that the district isn't taking anti-Semitism seriously," Waldorf said. He said that the principal promised in September to inform parents monthly when such incidents occurred, but the swastikas were only briefly mentioned in a weekly newsletter, a few weeks after they happened, and without any real attention called to them, he said.

Despite the district's mantra, "Everyone Belongs Here" as a message of diversity and inclusiveness, Jewish students aren't being equally protected, he said. As a result, his family also believes that Alameda schools Superintendent Sean McPhetridge should resign from his position because of his lack of leadership on the issue.

"How hard would it have been for the principal or the superintendent, when the three swastikas were reported one week in November, to simply send out an email that says, 'don't draw swastikas?'" Waldorf said. "It's not that we think one is equal to the other, and if it had been just one swastika, we would not have reported it, but it's been a series of things. So how many swastikas equal a noose? How many swastikas does it take before they do something to clearly say this is not acceptable?"

However, Susan Davis, school district spokesperson, said the swastika and noose situations were handled differently because the noose was left on a public sidewalk outside the school. She also said they knew which day the noose was left. Also, the Alameda Police Department investigated the noose incident as a hate crime, she said.

"As a symbol of violence, the noose was more immediate and threatening than one-inch drawings of swastikas that had been created at an undetermined time in the past and had only just recently been discovered," she said. She also said that in only one of the incidents was it known who made the swastikas, and they were disciplined. She also said the district doesn't know for sure whether there has been a rise in swastikas drawn at the school in the past year, or if the reporting of them has increased due to heightened attention to hate and bias incidents nationwide.

McPhetridge declined to comment for this report because of the ongoing investigation into the Lindsey-Waldorf family's complaint, which is expected to wrap up this month, Davis said.

McPhetridge has previously apologized to the Lindsey-Waldorf family and invited them to meet with him. But they have refused to do so, until he states in writing how the district specifically plans to address anti-Semitism.

But Davis said the district has taken many steps since the complaint was filed to address the family's concerns. They include providing all teachers and managers with anti-bias training from the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations, providing resources to teachers and parents on how to talk to students about hate, and exploring ways to incorporate readings that focus on combating bias and hate in the district's history and social sciences curriculum. The district has also examined its disciplinary policies, passed a resolution to protect all students, and is planning a refresher course on how to report bullying incidents, she said. It has also set up a Jewish Educational Roundtable with other members of the school community on how to tackle these issues, and it's proud of those partnerships, she said.

Jacqueline Regev, education director of the Anti-Defamation League's central pacific region, said the district "has made measurable and impactful action toward fighting bias."

And Regev said the ADL has shared lesson plans and resources with the district on how to specifically fight anti-Semitism. In addition, Alameda High, which has been doing deeper anti-bias work through the ADL's "No Place for Hate" initiative, held a Holocaust education day this year, in which it invited Holocaust survivor Ben Stern, the subject of the documentary Near Normal Man, to talk to 10th graders. Stern survived two ghettos, nine concentration camps, and a grueling "Death March" — and all of his family perished in the ghettos and camps.

However, Natasha said she noticed during the presentation that some students were laughing and acting disruptively and disrespectfully, which troubled her. And then when she found the swastika on the mural the day after — and then she learned that two other swastikas were found that same week, it left her to wonder how much has really changed.

However, Regev said that the uptick in reporting of the swastikas that week may be seen as a sign of progress, too, since it may be an indication that the Holocaust survivor's visit spurred a heightened awareness of the swastika as a sign of hate, rather than spurred anyone to draw new ones in reaction to the event.

Alicia Cernitz-Schwartz, a parent of a fourth-grader at Otis Elementary whose idea it was to form the Jewish Educational Roundtable, said she also sees progress at the district overall. Her group, which she describes as "solutions-oriented," was created with the mission of educating Alamedans about Jewish issues, she said. Among the things the group is currently working on is a proclamation for Jewish-American Heritage Month and crafting a webinar on the history of anti-Semitism that it hopes will be used as a resource for students and families. The group is also providing input on how schools can deal with bias-related bullying, as well as working to build cultural awareness of Jewish life by educating staff and families about holiday observances every year.

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