Antisemitism incidents in Ottawa schools prompt push for more education

Craig Lord / Global News

Ottawa school board trustee Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth says the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board needs to better educate staff and students about the deep-rooted history of antisemitism following a string of hateful incidents in city schools.

An active member of the Jewish community, Kaplan-Myrth says she intends to bring a motion at the next school board meeting to hire a full-time Jewish educator.

“We need to be much more vigilant about calling out all forms of hate,” said Kaplan-Myrth. “It’s frightening for me, as a physician, it’s frightening for every parent whose child is going to school and it’s frightening for everybody who has experienced this in their day to day life.”

Two students were charged recently with hate crimes related to allegations they showed a swastika and delivered a Nazi salute to Jewish students at Sir Robert Bordern High School in December.

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The president of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa called the December incident “incredibly serious” but she said it is not an isolated occurrence.

Andrea Freedman said the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board needs to step up their efforts to counter hateful behaviour.

“It is the first time that the school board seems to be willing to take action, which we applaud them, but it is long overdue,” said Freedman.

Her organization receives regular calls from parents and families about incidents like the one that occurred at Sir Robert Borden High School. Freedman says there are growing concerns in the last year about how the issue has escalated.

Other incidents reported in the last six months include a student who said a classmate told her to “stick to her own kind” while giving her a Nazi salute, and another student standing up in class to say he wished more Jews were killed and that Hitler was still alive.

In September, the school board issued an open letter acknowledging the problem.

“Over the past months, we have heard concerns from parents, staff, students, and community partners about the rise of antisemitism in schools, the need for more awareness and action by the school district, as well as more recent concern about our approach to professional learning,” the letter said.

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“We want you to know that we hear you, we see you, we are listening, and we too are reflecting on the need to rebuild our relationship. We are unequivocal in our condemnation of antisemitism and all forms of hate. And, we are absolute in our commitment to working and learning together.”

The incident at Sir Robert Borden is alleged to have occurred on Dec. 1.

On Dec. 10, the board issued another statement saying they were aware of “vile, antisemitic statements” targeting Kaplan-Myrth and again recognizing an increase in antisemitic behaviour in the schools.

“Hateful, aggressive or threatening actions or statements by any member of the OCDSB community will be investigated and disciplined. Any evidence of hate crimes will be reported to local authorities.”

As the rise of antisemitism in schools continues, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has launched an online platform called Unlearn It. The online hub contains resources for parents and teachers to handle antisemitism in the classroom or at home.

In a press release the organization said most hateful incidents are impacting students in grades six to eight.

“While, in most cases, school boards responded quickly and appropriately, with these incidents happening repeatedly, it became evident that it is not enough to be reactive; we need a change in approach,” wrote Noah Shack, vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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In April B’nai Brith said there were a record number of anti-Jewish hate crimes reported in Canada in 2021 including physical assaults, vandalism and the appearance of swastikas in schools.

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