District responds to yet another allegedly anti-Semitic act

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A South Orange-Maplewood public school has again had to release a statement regarding alleged anti-Semitic behavior on campus.

On Feb. 15, Maplewood Middle School Principal Dara Gronau sent a letter home alerting the MMS community of “an incident involving the use of the Nazi gesture and verbal salute” between a small group of students in a classroom.

The SOMSD did not respond to a request for comment and elaboration.

According to Gronau’s letter, the school responded to the incident as harassment, intimidation and bullying, and is utilizing HIB specialists to tailor the proper response.

“At Maplewood Middle School, we are committed to fostering an inclusive environment where students can grow, learn and participate in society as informed and caring citizens,” Gronau wrote in the letter. “We have taken various steps to support this effort and will continue to do so. Ensuring that all students and families feel welcome and safe when they enter our doors will always be a priority for our school.

“We see this as an important teachable moment, which demonstrates our need to reinforce our belief in the importance of inclusiveness,” she continued.

As of Feb. 15, the school had decided to adjust agendas for upcoming advisory sessions to include specific anti-bias discussions and to create opportunities for eighth-graders to participate in these discussions; to conduct “a meeting with the faculty reminding them of the importance of responding to and being vigilant about incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying in our school,” and to continue to promote anti-bias professional development for staff members.

“Words are powerful and we must teach our students that we should not use our words to hurt others,” Gronau wrote. “We ask for the partnership and support of our parents and guardians in talking with your children about the important role each of us has in making sure our school is a safe environment, where each student feels respected and included.”

While the exact nature of the incident at MMS has not been communicated by the administration, South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race Executive Director Nancy Gagnier reminds everyone that “symbols are very powerful.”

“Swastikas and Nazi salute gestures are powerful symbols of hate, and cause pain because they are associated with mass murder and systematic oppression,” Gagnier told the News-Record in a recent email. “It is critical to teach all our students about the pain these hate symbols cause. Hateful graffiti, gestures and speech create a hostile atmosphere within the school building and they extend to the larger community. We must respond with anti-bias education and a communal response that we do not tolerate anti-Semitism or racism here.

“We support the school district’s response to hold anti-bias discussions and to promote anti-bias professional development, and we stand ready to work with the district, as we have in the past, on these issues,” Gagnier said.

On the heels of this latest alleged school incident comes the timely workshop series organized by the Community Coalition on Race Schools Committee: “Talking to Children About Race,” for which professional teacher-development credit is available. The workshops will be led by Diane Hughes, a professor of applied psychology at New York University.

The workshops will be held as follows: “Inter-racial Families: Racial Identity in Our Society” on Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the South Orange Middle School Library; “The Language of Race and Identity: Growing Our Understanding” on Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m. at the South Orange Middle School Library; and “Talking to Your Pre-Schooler: The First Conversations” on Saturday, April 1, at 10 a.m. at the Montrose Learning Center. Registration is not required, but RSVPs are requested at http://www.twotowns.org/2017/02/07/talking-to-children-about-race-identity-workshop-series/.