Investigations are underway after antisemitic incidents were reported at a North York middle school.
In a letter to parents and students on Monday, Charles H. Best Middle School Principal Elever Baker said an “antisemitic incident” occurred at the school.
“On Tuesday, two students had depicted swastika’s and prior to the week beginning, students performed the ‘Hitler’s salute’ in front of classmates,” the letter reads.
“This is very upsetting and unacceptable. We take great pride in our school as a welcoming, safe, and inclusive place and this has always been our message to students.”
Baker said the incident is “not reflective of who we are and what we stand for as a school and as a community.”
Once the incidents were brought to the attention of administration, Baker said they took “immediate steps to address the issue and we continue to investigate.”
“On behalf of Charles H. Best Middle School, we acknowledge and regret the harm this incident caused to members of our school community and to our shared school climate,” the letter said. “We are committed to the work of intentionally identifying, interrupting and addressing racism and discrimination in our school, with a focus on antisemitism.”
Baker said the school will be “working with students to address this matter” and will “incorporate this as a learning opportunity that supports equity and inclusion to underscore our commitment to create a safe and welcoming environment for all.”
According to the letter, the school is consulting with Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Equity Advisors and “other central staff” to “establish new strategies and tools for addressing antisemitism.”
Baker said some students may be “understandably, upset as a result of the incidents.”
Social workers have been at the school to support students, Baker said.
Michel Dubuc’s son attends the middle school. He called the incidents “concerning.”
“It’s not only concerning, but it’s sad too,” he said. “Just knowing that kids are doing that, they must have learned it somewhere.”
Dubuc said receiving the letter from the school makes you wonder “what’s going on, and what’s being taught.”
“It’s very, very sad,” he said.
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Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a spokesperson for the TDSB and chair of the board’s Jewish Heritage Committee said moving forward, education is “really important.”
“We want to raise our kids to have love in their heart,” she said. “And all the swastika says is hate. It’s a universal symbol of hate.”
She said “unfortunately, our kids have been seeing the swastika flag unfurled at protests, they see it on the news, they’ve seen it in video games, they’ve seen it online.”
“So it becomes normalized,” she said. “And it can’t become normalized, because we need to teach them that it is a symbol of hate. And that’s really important. Education is really important, and that’s what schools can do.”
In a press release issued Tuesday, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) said it has been “actively engaging” with senior TDSB officials in response to the incidents.
The FSWC said as soon as it was informed of what happened, it “immediately notified the TDSB,” and “offered resources to help address these incidents.”
“The school is in Bathurst Manor, an area with a large Jewish population, where many Holocaust survivors live and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial site is located,” the release reads.
FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt said it is “extremely disturbing to once again learn of antisemitism rearing its ugly head at a school in Toronto.”
“At a time of rising antisemitism, it’s essential for schools to have the resources to address and prevent such hate incidents and ensure safe spaces for all students,” Levitt said in a statement.
“As we see Holocaust awareness diminish, an increase in the use of vile Nazi symbols and the spread of antisemitic rhetoric, especially on social media and gaming platforms, educating students and empowering them to stand up against hate is more critical than ever.
“We must never be silent in the face of Jew-hatred in our community and in our country.”
According to the release, the FSWC has been receiving “multiple reports per week” of antisemitic incidents in schools in the city.