‘Hateful’: Students ‘surrounded’ Jewish teacher and flashed Hitler salute at her: TDSB

Several students are under investigation at a Toronto middle school after doing a "Hitler salute" towards a Jewish teacher. The TDSB vowing to bring more holocaust and genocide education into schools

A Jewish teacher, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was surrounded by students who flashed the Heil Hitler salute in class at a North York school last week, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) confirmed on Tuesday.

A grim-faced TDSB spokesperson, Shari Schwartz-Maltz, said the teacher had briefly left her classroom at Valley Park Middle School, and when she came back, “several students surrounded her and gave her the Heil Hitler salute.”

It happened on Thursday, February 17 — the same day that anti-Semitic graffiti was also reportedly found at the school — and just weeks after students at another North York school reportedly performed the Hitler salute in front of classmates.

“It’s had a deep effect on her, and she is the child of Survivors,” Schwartz-Maltz confirmed. “You can imagine how she felt.”

It was “very hateful, very hurtful, very upsetting to the teacher.”

Schwartz-Maltz said police are investigating but didn’t provide further details.

As for the students involved, she would only say, “there will be consequences.”

Last week, Valley Park Middle School principal George Bartzis informed parents of the incident in a letter.

Bartzis said three students were involved.

“This is very upsetting and unacceptable,” he wrote. “We take great pride in our school as a welcoming, safe and inclusive place, and this has always been our message to students. It is also not reflective of who we are and what we stand for as a school and as a community.

“We will be working with students to address this matter and incorporate this as a learning opportunity that supports equity and inclusion to underscore our commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all.”

Schwartz-Maltz also stressed that while punishment is forthcoming, education is the key to eradicating bigotry.

She says the TDSB is working to “proactively bring more Holocaust education into our schools.”

“I’m feeling sad and emotional today, but I’m also feeling very hopeful because we have this commitment,” she said. “It has to stop, and our contribution is education.”

The TDSB’s Director of Education, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, said the indecent act “brought pain and harm,” adding that it shows how much work still needs to be done to educate students and staff on antisemitism.

“On behalf of the TDSB, I want to apologize specifically to the teacher and to all the students, staff and families who are impacted by this horrific situation not only at Valley Park but throughout our system,” Russell-Rawlins said in a statement.

“We strive for our schools to be safe, welcoming and inclusive. However, as incidents of antisemitism and other forms of racism and hate have risen sharply in our country and city, sadly, there are also incidents connected to our schools. Our data shows that of all reported racism, bias and hate incidents in the TDSB, 91 per cent were committed by students, and that is why our focus will remain on student learning.

“We will continue to be transparent in sharing these incidents with school communities,” she added.

Russell-Rawlins says the TDSB will be connecting with the ministry of education to reiterate the need for additional support.

“Helping students, parents and staff understand and address hate, including antisemitism, is essential to preventing it.”

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), a human rights organization committed to countering antisemitism, released a statement on Tuesday, calling on swift action from the TDSB.

“Clearly, something is broken in Toronto’s public school system and requires immediate attention,” the group said.

“We are calling for an emergency intervention by the Board to address this wave of antisemitism that we see playing out within the student body, which will proactively address the hateful stereotypes and misinformation that exist and send a strong message that Jew-hatred will simply not be tolerated within our schools.”

FSWC says it has been in contact with the Grade 8 teacher who remains “deeply traumatized.”

With files from Lucas Casaletto

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