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October 3, 2017 9:59 am

Father of California High Schooler Targeted by Antisemitic Bullying Calls on District to Protect Jewish Students

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Natasha Waldorf with her parents, Mel Waldorf and Jessica Lindsey. Photo: The Jewish News of Northern California.

The father of a student who faced antisemitic bullying at her high school in Alameda, California, is calling on district officials to improve their response to harassment targeting Jewish students, The Algemeiner has learned.

While a freshman at Alameda High School last year, Mel Waldorf’s daughter, Natasha, said she was repeatedly threatened because she is Jewish, “to the point that I felt unwelcome and actually afraid for my safety.”

In her address to the Alameda City Council on September 19, Natasha indicated that the bullying began last January, when she “received a text from an unknown number with a picture of Mr. Clean dressed in a Nazi uniform, labeled Mr. Ethnic Cleansing.”

Natasha, who was in class at the time, said she received another text containing an antisemitic picture from the same number, was then called a “kike” and “told Hitler’s biggest mistake was not killing my family and that I should apologize to all Germans.”

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The texts referred to Natasha by name, and she soon learned that they were instigated by a German exchange student from one of her classes.

“I confronted him about it, and his response was that I should just stop being Jewish if I didn’t like it, and that people don’t like Jews because of that little country of yours, meaning Israel,” she told the Council. “He also questioned whether Jews have really been persecuted throughout history.”

Two days later, Natasha said she and a Jewish classmate were waiting for class to start when they heard two boys making jokes about the Holocaust. “We asked them to stop, and they immediately replied that they wished our families had been thrown in the ovens,” Natasha said.

When her parents went to see the school administration following the first incident, they were told that the threats did not amount to hate crimes, and that the German student’s comments may have been misinterpreted “due to a language barrier,” Natasha said. “When a third incident happened, they again took these as just bad words.”

Natasha claimed that while the administration said it disciplined the students involved in these incidents, she was not asked to complete bullying reports on them, meaning there would be no records kept.

“I didn’t even get apologies from the German student, or the two students who threatened me and my friend, despite promises from the administration that I would,” she added.

Natasha’s father, Mel, told The Algemeiner that the company that sponsored the German exchange student was not notified about his behavior by the school last year. “They were mortified about the student’s behavior and said they would have acted right away if they had known,” he added. “Since we contacted them they apparently have informed his family in Germany.”

Natasha noted that despite her complaints, she still “had to sit with these bullies in the same classes for the remaining five months of the school year, sometimes with them sitting directly next to me.”

She also continued encountering antisemitism. In one of her classes, the same kids who previously bullied her “were telling Holocaust jokes right in front of a teacher who said and did nothing in response.”

Later in the year, Natasha said she “found a drawing on a desk with the words Jews are evil, along with a Star of David holding a money bag about to be crushed by a sledgehammer with a swastika on it.” And when the school’s Jewish club put up posters for Jewish American Heritage Month in May, “they were all ripped down within three days,” she added.

The dean of the school “said it was probably just a mistake by students from the leadership class clearing old posters,” never considering the possibility of “antisemitic vandalism,” Natasha stated.

She indicated that while her parents repeatedly discussed the situation with school officials and Sean McPhetridge, superintendent of the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD), “it didn’t make a difference. The superintendent defended all actions taken and told us that all incidents were handled appropriately.”

Natasha added that at a Board of Education meeting on September 12th, after her father testified on her behalf and accused the superintendent of inaction, “two teachers immediately got up to defend the superintendent.”

Both of the teachers expressed their confidence in McPhetridge’s opposition to antisemitism and racism, with the latter emphasizing “his commitment to the safety, both psychological as well as physical of all of our students here at AUSD,” according to a recording of their remarks.

“Any statement to the opposite I can only assume comes from either wild misinformation or purposeful manipulation,” the teacher added. “I am sure that if Mr. Waldorf and his family opened up their hearts to Mr. McPhetridge, this problem could be solved.”

Natasha said she was “so upset and felt so betrayed” by the teachers, who “were essentially telling me that I don’t matter to the district and that I am a liar.”

Mel Waldorf told The Algemeiner on Friday that he had not heard a response from McPhetridge to Natasha’s statement. The family, which filed a formal complaint against McPhetridge with the district on August 25th, said they met with the investigator assigned to the case on Friday morning.

“We continue to fight to demand the district protect our children as they are required to do under law,” he said, outlining a “three pronged approach.”

“There needs to be education of staff and students on what antisemitism is, why it’s dangerous, and what to do when it happens,” Mel continued.

The district also “needs a clear policy on how to handle antisemitic threats when they happen that protects the student victim and notifies the families in the district of the incidents,” he argued.

He further indicated that McPhetridge’s “deliberate inaction over the past nine months shows that he has no interest in protecting Jewish students,” and called for his removal.

Requests for comment from McPhetridge were unanswered by press time.

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