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New York Public Schools chancellor scolds Republicans for ‘gotcha’ antisemitism hearing, saying district disciplined staff


David Banks, the chancellor of New York City public schools, told a congressional hearing Wednesday that his district had fired, disciplined or was in the process of disciplining at least a dozen employees and school leaders. establishment for alleged anti-Semitism, thus firmly opposing the Republican proposals. accusations that the school system was failing to address hate speech and incidents against Jewish students and faculty.

“Keeping schools safe is in my DNA,” Banks said during a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. “When anti-Semitism rears its head, I believe we must respond. And we have.”

Banks said discipline against teachers includes removing a principal in the middle of the school year. He added that New York City Public Schools has suspended at least 30 students, called in the New York City Police Department when necessary and retrained all 1,600 principals on code of conduct. discipline.

Banks added that suspending students and faculty alone would not solve the problem, emphasizing that engagement with the community and education was crucial.

“The real antidote is to teach,” he said.

Banks had a combative tone, frequently discussing and correcting members of Congress who accused New York’s school system of not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism. He questioned Republicans’ motivations for the hearing and urged Congress to take steps to “bring us together” to find solutions to combat hate beyond simply holding hearings.

“This meeting, for too many Americans working in education, seems like the ultimate catch-22 moment,” Banks said. “That doesn’t sound like people are actually trying to solve a problem that I think we should be doing everything we can to solve.”

Banks’ testimony highlighted a two-hour questioning of leaders of three school districts in liberal cities over alleged anti-Semitic incidents. This was the first congressional hearing of its kind to focus on elementary and secondary schools.

His fiery attitude avoided the past mistakes of Ivy League school presidents who were also hauled before Congress for harsh questions about anti-Semitism on campus. The presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania were ousted following a hearing in December after failing to say whether campus calls for genocide of Jews would violate school rules. In contrast, last month, Columbia’s president was criticized by many professors and students for being too accommodating to the demands of right-wing members of Congress.

Wednesday’s hearing gave Republicans a chance to confront New York City officials; Berkeley, California; and Montgomery County, Maryland, over reports of anti-Semitism in their districts.

It’s no coincidence that the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing represent school districts in liberal cities. Republicans have sought to score political points by attacking “woke” policies they say enable hate speech.

A separate House committee had planned to hold a hearing on reports of anti-Semitism on the campus of George Washington University. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Pam Smith were previously scheduled to testify about their response to an on-campus encampment. But after that encampment was cleared Wednesday morning and police arrested dozens of people, the commission canceled the hearing.

Lawmakers at the hearing focused in particular on an incident last fall at Hillcrest High School in Queens, where a pro-Israel teacher allegedly hid for hours in front of hundreds of protesting students. Banks condemned the incident.

“I clearly condemn: what happened at Hillcrest was an act of complete anti-Semitism. This won’t hold up on my watch,” Banks said. ” We answered. And I don’t know how to make it clearer.

Banks, a Hillcrest graduate, said the school’s principal was removed from his position and was not transferred to run another school. But New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik argued with Banks over the fact that the director was reassigned — but not fired.

Stefanik, citing local media, said the principal of Hillcrest High School in Queens had been given a leadership position, working on a team led by the school district’s vice chancellor. Banks said he couldn’t confirm the former superintendent’s current role, but he acknowledged the former superintendent was removed from his position but reassigned elsewhere in the district. He testified that the principal was removed from his position because he failed to provide adequate supervision.

“It concerns me that he’s in a leadership position,” Stefanik told Banks. “All we get is lip service, lack of enforcement and lack of accountability.”

New York Republican Rep. Brandon Williams also criticized Banks for not firing the director.

“How can Jewish students feel safe in New York City public schools when you can’t even fire the principal of Open-Season-on-Jews High School? Williams asked Banks during a heated exchange. “How can Jewish students go to school knowing he’s still on your payroll?”

Banks explained that every employee has the right to due process and stressed that everything is done to ensure the safety of teachers and students.

“We don’t always get it right,” Banks acknowledged.

Under questioning from lawmakers, Banks said Hillcrest High School was not “radicalized.”

“But the children responsible…clearly engaged in an act of anti-Semitism.” And I took care of it,” he said, noting that “we suspended students, we fired the principal of the school.”

“A Jewish teacher was targeted in a frightening episode. We did not accept this. We pushed back a lot on this decision,” he said.

Stefanik also asked Banks about allegations that students marched down the hallway at Origins High School in Brooklyn chanting “Death to the Jews.”

Banks said an investigation found no evidence that chants had been chanted in the hallways, although he noted that what the investigation revealed was “deeply disturbing” and that a number of students at the school had been suspended.

Banks said he could not provide details about what happened at Origins because the incident was the subject of litigation.

He also noted that a principal at another school was disciplined after instructing a teacher to accompany a student to an anti-Israel protest. Banks called the action “totally inappropriate” and said the principal and teacher were disciplined, but not fired.

The hearing came a day after the U.S. Department of Education said in a letter reviewed by CNN that it was investigating California’s Berkeley Unified School District for allegations of discrimination based on common Jewish ancestry or about being Israeli.

A copy of the letter, sent to the Anti-Defamation League and the Brandeis Center, says the department’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether the district has complied with Title VI requirements to prevent discrimination and harassment. The department is also investigating whether the Berkeley district retaliated against two parents who complained of harassment based on their Jewish ancestry.

CNN has contacted the school district for comment. The Department of Education referred questions to a list of schools currently under investigation for allegations of shared ancestry. However, this list does not currently include the Berkeley School District.

The complaint filed by the Brandeis Center details dozens of incidents at Berkeley, including students allegedly shouting “kill the Jews,” “F— the Jews” as well as “KKK.”

Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District in California, testified Wednesday that there had been allegations of anti-Semitism in her district, but denied that the problem was widespread.

“Our babies sometimes say harmful things. We realize that all kids make mistakes,” Ford Morthel said, referring to the students. “We know that our employees are not immune to mistakes either. And we don’t ignore them when they arise.

Since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, formal complaints of anti-Semitism have been filed related to nine incidents in the school district, Ford Morthel told lawmakers.

“However, anti-Semitism is not pervasive in the Berkeley Unified School District,” she said.

Ford Morthel noted that the district does not share actions the school district takes against students or teachers because that information is protected by federal and state laws.

“As a result, some people think that we are doing nothing. That’s not true,” she said.

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