How a photo of Hitler in a 7th-grade classroom sparked a debate over antisemitism and school oversight
From The San Diego Union-Tribune
Parents and Jewish community members say a teacher’s inclusion of the photo in a classroom display shows the need for ‘real education’ on antisemitism.
OCT. 23, 2022 5 AM PT
Almost a year ago, hundreds of Jewish San Dieguito students pleaded for their school board to do something about antisemitism they said they experienced at school, ranging from offensive comments and internet memes to vandalism and having to take standardized tests on Rosh Hashanah.
Then, weeks later, somebody found two large swastikas painted in the boys’ bathroom at Torrey Pines High School.
Now, community members are once again calling on the district to fight antisemitism in the weeks after a student protested a teacher’s photo of Adolf Hitler in her classroom.
But little change has yet been made as San Dieguito Union High School District board and community members disagree on how to move forward, whether to punish those involved or take a more restorative approach, and how best to monitor curricula and teaching methods.
A seventh-grade teacher at Carmel Valley Middle School had posted a Hitler photo on a classroom wall display next to photos of revered leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, according to images of the wall and interviews with parents. The teacher posted words above the photos such as “Themes” and “Evidence”; above Hitler’s photo, she put the word “Patterns.”
A student in the class complained to the teacher about the photo late last month, and the student’s parent contacted the principal and the Anti-Defamation League. School staff eventually took down the photo.
Civil rights groups, Jewish organizations, parents and community members said that regardless of the teacher’s intent, it was confusing and harmful in associating Hitler with a group of inspirational, positive world leaders without providing context or explanation.
“To be clear, images of Adolf Hitler in the classroom without proper context can be deeply offensive and hurtful to members of the Jewish community. Particularly for younger students who are impressionable,” the ADL‘s San Diego chapter said in a statement last week. “Regardless of the teacher’s intent, the impact was felt in the classroom and beyond.”
Interim Superintendent Tina Douglas said in a statement that the district was “deeply sorry” for the display and promised to hold anti-bias training for faculty and staff, convene a “listening session” with Jewish leaders and examine the classroom material.
She didn’t say whether any disciplinary action had been taken with the teacher.
“We are responsible for creating a safe school culture, which is done with the teacher’s presence, words, and practices, and we know that we did not meet that standard with the recent situation at (Carmel Valley Middle School),” Douglas said in the statement.
The photo struck a nerve in the Jewish community, which has seen a rise in antisemitism in the past two years, including in San Dieguito schools.
“Our community is more anxious now than I’ve ever seen it,” said Heidi Gantwerk, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County. “This was one of what seemed to be multiple incidents and statements and actions that are signs antisemitism is increasing all around us.”
The ADL recorded 38 incidents of antisemitism in San Diego County last year, including harassment and vandalism. The group recorded 367 statewide, up 27 percent from 2020. And nationwide, there were 2,717 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault reported, the most ADL has recorded since it began tracking them in 1979.