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2,000 parents sign letter expressing concerns of ‘escalating incidents of antisemitism’ at

Published Wednesday, November 22, 2023 10:16PM EST

Last Updated Wednesday, November 22, 2023 10:16PM EST

Two thousand parents have signed a letter to the province and Toronto District School Board (TDSB) citing “deep concern regarding the escalating incidents of antisemitism within Toronto schools.”

The letter, which was sent to officials on Tuesday, points to a variety of incidents, including children “performing Nazi salutes, drawing swastikas on bus windows, vandalizing bathrooms with antisemitic graffiti, Jewish stars being put on the desks of Jewish students to identify them, committing physical violence, and making threats and references to gas chambers, Hitler, and being sent back to concentration camps.”

The letter named four schools: Faywood ABC School, Hodgson Middle School, Windfields Middle School and Northern Secondary School.

Marisa and Sophie, twin Grade 11 students, do not attend any of those schools but told CTV News there are regular issues at their school, too. CTV News agreed not to share their last names or the school they go to for their safety.

“Tuesday, after the attacks, a student in my class spoke to a Jewish student,” said Marisa, “and said that Israel deserves what’s happening and deserves the attacks.”

Marisa said she wrote a letter to her teacher offering to put together some resources and requesting the class be educated about antisemitism.

“I got a response later that night from my teacher saying that … she spoke with the administration and they don’t feel comfortable educating or having me put together resources,” Marisa explained.

And even more recently, after a Holocaust survivor spoke in their school, Marisa said one student was unhappy to attend and posted on social media, “Hitler would be proud of what is going on.”

“I think the misinformation and the lack of action from the administration really upset us,” said Sophie. “No one really wanted to get into it because it was too messy.”

Robin, Marisa and Sophie’s mother, signed the letter to the education minister.

“It’s just been one disappointment after another in terms of lack of leadership, lack of education for the students, making our Jewish students feel a bit ghettoized and made to feel other,” she said.

“There’s been some incidents at the high school, and the administration has shut down conversations about current events, and the kids are really feeling alienated.”

In a statement to CTV News, the TDSB said it has seen an increase in reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

“While each incident is looked at on a case-by-case basis, these incidents can lead to outcomes including suspensions according to TDSB procedures and the Education Act,” the statement said, “it’s also important to note that, beyond disciplinary actions, the TDSB provides anti-hate and anti-racism education for students and staff learning, including on antisemitism, aligned with the TDSB’s Combatting Hate and Racism Strategy.”

According to the most recent update from Toronto police, between Oct. 7 and 25, they responded to 20 suspected hate-motivated incidents — 15 that were antisemitic and five Islamophobic. There were seven reported hate incidents during the same period in 2022.

Robin would like to see the province step up.

“I think there’s a disconnect between the TDSB stance on this and the provincial government, and I think that needs to be tightened,” she said.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he found the letter “deeply concerning.”

Soon after Oct. 7, when Hamas launched an attack on Israel, Lecce said the ministry communicated to all school board directors and chairs that they do not want “personal perspectives” brought to the classroom.

“We need to be cautious, and we need to exercise sound judgment to respect the fact that our words matter, and what we do in our own time matters too,” Lecce said.

The minister of education said they have been providing training for all educators to take action when they see antisemitism displayed in their classrooms.

“We’ve been doing the same across the board for other communities [that] have been affected by hate. I think fundamentally the ministry’s role is to make sure we build the capacity and confidence of teachers to be allies in rooting out this hate,” Lecce said.

Noah Shack, VP of countering antisemitism and hate at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, said this is a country-wide issue.

“What we’re hearing from parents is that this is a very distressing time for Jewish families in the public school system,” said Shack. “I’ve heard about a number of incidents where kids actually don’t feel safe going to school and are staying home and people are afraid to even speak up.”

He explained that schools do have ways to deal with bullying and harassment in schools, and these incidents need to be handled in the same way.

“I think that’s the way we need to look at this,” said Shack, “this is not about Israel. It’s not about Hamas. This is about Jewish kids in schools being bullied and harassed and intimidated sometimes with physical violence.”

Sophie and Marisa believe educational conversations in the classroom would help their classmates.

“If we could open that platform for questions and for people who just don’t understand, which is totally fine to educate them, even the bare minimum, I think it would be great,” said Sophie. 

Read More:2,000 parents sign letter expressing concerns of ‘escalating incidents of antisemitism’ at