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June 4, 2021 3:40 pm
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Schenectady, New York School Official Admits ‘Hurt’ Caused by Committee Email Accusing Israel of Ethnic Cleansing

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

City Hall, Schenectady, NY, USA. WikiCommons/Daniel Case

The interim superintendent of Schenectady City Schools near Albany, New York expressed regret for an email by a Schenectady High School committee on the Middle East conflict that suggested teachers tell their students Israel commits “ethnic cleansing.”

According to The Daily Gazette, at a school board meeting on Wednesday, Aaron Bochniak said the email evoked “hurt, anger, disappointment, and fear” and “did not include the necessary context and framework to help move the dialogue in the right direction.”

Written by the so-called “Culturally Relevant Committee” of Schenectady High School — a group of “teachers tasked with supporting the goal of making teaching in the school more engaging” — the email also recommended encouraging students to advocate “anti-Zionism,” charged one teacher.

“I would agree it was mismanaged and that work should have happened prior to supports being provided or an email being sent,” Bochniak said, “Ultimately the work is intended to make teaching and learning relevant and supportive of all students.”

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“The work of these teachers does not mean that they are experts; they are learning the work by doing the work and encouraging difficult conversations. Sometimes they need help and support too.”

One Jewish teacher, Amy Salzman, told the Gazette that the email “perpetuated prejudice against Jewish people” and stoked racial tension.

At what she described as a “hyper-accusatory” discussion of the email at a meeting last week, any teacher raising concerns about its content and tone was asked whether “Black lives matter” in response.

“To teach our students Israel is involved in ethnic cleansing is inaccurate,” Salzman told the school board on Wednesday, “Teaching our students to be anti-Zionist is, in a word, racist.”

“Is there work to be done? Yes “Do Black lives matter? Yes, but so do the lives of Jews, Palestinians, Guyanese and a myriad of other [backgrounds] represented in the school district.”

During the meeting, Interim Superintendent Bochniak said that despite the urging of many parents and teachers, he would not disband the Culturally Relevant Committee — arguing that the committee is “core to the district’s values,” according to the Gazette.

“Is abandoning this work the message we would want to send to our students our community? Because this work is about equity, collaboration, and learning  — our core values  — and because this work is going to be messy … we will not be abandoning it,” he said.

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