COMMUNITY UPDATE: Antisemitic Project at Peel School

Like you, we were outraged and disturbed that students at Stephen Lewis Secondary School (SLSS) in Peel recently conducted a school project promoting antisemitic blood libels against Israelis.

Two hours ago, CIJA met with senior leaders from SLSS and the Peel District School Board to voice our community’s concerns and discuss concrete steps to address this incident.

The Board confirmed to CIJA the following:

  1. The Board has completely cancelled the project and all materials and social media posts associated with it have been removed.
  2. The Board has explained to students and staff involved that this project was rooted in falsehoods and constitutes a modern-day antisemitic blood libel.
  3. The Board has committed to take measures to ensure an incident like this never occurs again within its schools.
  4. The Board has committed to take appropriate disciplinary action as necessary to address this incident.
  5. The Board committed to use this incident as an educational opportunity to teach students about the nature and dangers of antisemitism. It confirmed it will work to ensure that students and staff — including members of the Jewish community — feel they are in a safe and inclusive space.
  6. The Board will work with CIJA and the Jewish community to conduct staff training on antisemitism, recognizing the need to address systemic challenges and a problematic climate in the school.

The Board’s statement – which may be read in full below – is a welcome commitment to address this serious incident in a meaningful way. We look forward to working closely with the Peel District School Board to ensure full and effective implementation of this plan.

This incident has struck a deep nerve within our community. Rightly so. Together, we demonstrated that we will never be silent when – just days before Passover – ancient blood libels are revived.

We are heartened by the way our community united around this issue, and by the outpouring of support we received from many others. Active engagement in our work and in the fight against antisemitism is more important now than ever.

Sincerely,

Noah Shack,
Vice President, Greater Toronto Area


April 16, 2019

Peel District School Board Director’s Statement: Update regarding antisemitic concerns raised over class project

​On behalf of the Peel District School Board, I would like to provide an update on the investigation into antisemitic materials created and displayed in Stephen Lewis Secondary School. First and foremost, I would like to reaffirm our board’s unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism in all of its forms. We acknowledge and take full responsibility for the profound, negative impact these materials have caused to many members of the community, including our students, their families, staff and the broader Jewish community. I would like to offer a formal apology to all of those exposed to these hurtful materials. There is no place in our schools for hatred of any kind and we are committed to doing better.​

The poster displayed in the school as part of the grade 12 Equity and Social Justice: From Theory to Practice course contained links to misinformation and constitutes a disturbing, modern-day, antisemitic blood libel trope. We have determined that it was not the teacher nor the students’ intention to promote, what they now understand to be, false allegations. Their project was unintentionally rooted in falsehoods, is antisemitic and has been stopped.

Although the intent was to advocate for the protection of human rights, this project discriminated against members of the Jewish community by perpetuating antisemitism. This has no place in our schools or anywhere in Peel Region and beyond.

We have taken numerous steps to immediately address this serious matter. The campaign banner has been removed from the school and associated social media activity has been deleted. We have investigated its development and are determining measures that we can put in place to prevent a similar occurrence in future.

While we cannot comment on specific disciplinary action due to privacy laws, we can assure our community that appropriate action will be taken. We know not knowing can be frustrating, but we want to assure you that, as always, discipline would be aligned with the Peel board’s Safe Schools Policy #48, with a focus on restoring and rebuilding relationships.

Our investigation has underscored the need for our board to strengthen both staff and student knowledge and awareness of antisemitism. We will ensure that this is a learning opportunity for the students and staff involved, with the goal of engaging them constructively and critically to explain the false and harmful nature of the project’s contents, and the dangerous, multi-faceted nature of antisemitism. Similarly, we will create an educational opportunity for the broader student and staff community at Stephen Lewis Secondary School, with the goals of addressing the hurt and harm caused by this project and fostering a climate in which no student feels marginalized or targeted because of their identity.

We have been in conversation with local and national Jewish organizations, including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and are committed to conducting a training program in partnership with these organizations. We are thankful to those who have reached out, with kind hearts, to volunteer to help us address the gaps in understanding that exist. These faith and community leaders have been very helpful in providing insights and support as we plan for this training and resources to address antisemitism.

As always, our work is guided by a commitment to equity and inclusion in all we do to support the Peel board community. We have a responsibility, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Education Act, Peel board policy and procedures including the board’s Safe Schools and Equity and Inclusive Education policies and a moral obligation to ensure all students and staff feel safe and included in Peel schools.

While our investigation of the matter has concluded, this is just the beginning of our work to ensure such an incident like this never occurs again within any of our schools and that all students and staff who learn and work in Peel board schools and work sites feel they are in a safe and inclusive space.

We are accountable and commit to doing better. There is no place for hatred, prejudice and discrimination in our schools.

Peter Joshua
Director of Education​

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