Despite outcries from county school and elected officials after a wave of incidents in January, Montgomery County continues to see more antisemitic incidents. MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight said nine new events occurred since Friday.
During a press briefing Wednesday, McKnight said the incidents occurred at four county schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She said the incidents primarily involved drawing of antisemitic symbols. McKnight did not elaborate on which schools were involved.
These incidents are the most recent in a slew of antisemitic acts in the school system and the county at large.
Montgomery County Public Schools defines its Restorative Justice model as a social justice platform that approaches incidents from a framework of “building community, self-care and conflict resolution,” according to its website. The school district began systemwide implementation of the model in 2018, and parents have since questioned its effectiveness.
The county has experienced a high rate of antisemitic acts in recent months, including multiple instances of hate-based graffiti and flyers, and even a physical attack. New survey data from the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy group, suggests the spike is part of a national trend.
“I wish I could snap my finger and solve the issue of racism. I truly do. And if it were that easy, I would have done it; many of us would have done it,” McKnight said. “We can’t snap our fingers and solve the problems. But what we can do is be very forthright in who we are and what we value.”
McKnight said the rise in antisemitic incidents has inspired the school system to put additional accountability measures in place. These measures are intended to address antisemitic behavior not only through punishment, but through remediation.
“Discipline is a Band-Aid. It will not heal us,” McKnight said.
As part of a process of accountability and restoration, McKnight said the parent of any student who perpetrates an act of antisemitism will be required to be involved in the restoration process for the student. It is unclear what would happen if a parent refused involvement.
“We cannot do that alone, because only a part of this can be done by the school and in the school. But the other part has to have happened outside of the school,” McKnight said. And that means you can, as a parent, provide input on how your child brings restoration to the community that has been impacted by their acts.”
The idea of the restoration process is for the student to learn the impact of antisemitism and make changes in their life, McKnight said.
“It doesn’t take away from all the accountability that’s put in place. But it does provide the opportunity for a student to restore the harm that has been brought to that community,” McKnight said. “We cannot suspend our way out of this problem.”
Students who commit antisemitic acts will have a specific incident report form added to their permanent record in the school system in addition , McKnight said.
The school system will also be ensuring the history and social studies curriculums will teach the history of Jewish people and antisemitism at an age appropriate level at all grade levels, depending on history being taught at that level, according to MCPS social studies content specialist Tracy Oliver-Gary. She also said Holocaust-focused texts are taught in middle and high school English and language arts classes.
Oliver-Gary said MCPS is also offering professional development sessions to staff not only on addressing antisemitism, but also understanding Judaism as a religion and culture. There will be service-learning opportunities for students to participate in their own sessions on antisemitism and hate, and sessions offered to families and the community as well. Some of these sessions will be led in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
MCPS will also host a rally taking a stand against hate, with a date to be announced, at the Carver Educational Services Center.
Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of JCRC, said she is impressed by McKnight’s genuine concern about antisemitism in the school system.
“I want to express my deep appreciation to Dr. McKnight because I think her genuine concern for this issue is so palpable and she really does care. And I am beyond relieved that her remarks today not only demonstrated empathy, but also included concrete steps that are being taken,” Siegel said.
JCRC is supportive of the decision to include parents in the restoration process, Siegel said.
“Children learn first from their homes. And we have seen a variety of responses from parents of perpetrators,” Siegel said. “While some have been deeply engaged and positive forces in responding to incidents, others have been either not present or not engaged in trying to respond productively.”
Siegel also said including the incident on a perpetrator’s permanent record in the school system is a big step forward in addressing how serious acts of antisemitism are beyond a minor punishment.
However, JCRC has concerns about the restorative justice aspect of the school system’s response. Siegel said JCRC is concerned Jewish students who are targeted could be mandated to face the perpetrators as part of this process.
“We have been working with MCPS as a restorative justice staff to try to address some of these issues, and to hopefully bring greater cultural competency and sensitivity to the process. We understand the merits and virtue of restorative justice as a process. And I understand where Dr. McKnight is coming from when she says we’re not going to suspend our way out of this problem,” Siegel said. “But restorative justice is only as good as the people and the processes that are employed. So we hope to continue working with the school system on that because we continue to have concerns.”
During the briefing, McKnight said students who are targets of antisemitic incidents would not be required to participate in the restorative justice process but could be if they felt comfortable doing so, either at that time or in the future.
Siegel said she hopes the school system will continue to put the needs of the students affected first and not force them to be part of restoration, where they could feel unsafe and threatened.
She said she hopes MCPS will continue to work to make sure all students are safe and protected, first and foremost.
“It’s not just a matter of anti-semitic incidents, We’ve had a series of racist incidents, of homophobic incidents that are becoming increasingly graphic and therefore, increasingly hurtful, and destructive. These things are linked,” Siegel said.