‘Meet this moment head-on’: Schools Chancellor Banks rolls out program to address antisemitism in NYC public schools

Schools Chancellor Banks addresses antisemitism
Schools Chancellor David Banks, shown at a November 2023 press conference in Queens, rolled out a plan on Jan. 22, 2024 for the city’s public schools to combat antisemitism.
File photo/Iryna Shkurhan

Schools Chancellor David Banks laid out a plan Monday to address antisemitism and other forms of hate in public schools as protests continue throughout New York City in support of Palestine in the Israel-Hamas war.

The plan comes after several incidences of violence and other acts of aggression erupted in public schools and colleges around the city since the Palestinian terror group Hamas brutally murdered and attacked the Israeli people on Oct. 7 last year. 

Despite the political violence and chaos throughout the city related to the war, Banks said he is committed to fostering a culture of understanding, respect and safety throughout the schools.

“After engaging with community leaders, staff, families and students, we have put together a comprehensive plan to meet this moment head-on,” the chancellor said. “We are taking decisive steps in the areas of education, safety and engagement to ensure that every student and staff member feels valued and welcomed in our schools, irrespective of their background.” 

What the DOE plan entails 

The DOE plan will include classroom-facing support for principals and teachers, such as professional learning focused on navigating difficult conversations.  There will also be expanded instructional resources and materials focused on antisemitism and Islamophobia with input from the interfaith community, as well as expanded and updated diversity training.

Bigoted actions in school will be met with “clear consequences,” according to a DOE press release. Principals will get more training on how to apply the public school discipline code that includes responding to incidents with “appropriate and direct consequences.”

The DOE said it will also continue to prioritize investigations into antisemitism and Islamophobia allegations through its Office of Equal Opportunity. Beginning in February, the agency will also offer a series of anti-discrimination workshops to parent leaders. 

Michael Mulgrew — president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents tens of thousands of New York City public school teachers — expressed support for the chancellor’s plan. 

“Our job as educators is to help our students to be better than we are,” Mulgrew said. “To do that, we need schools that are safe for children and adults. Without that safe space, the good work our educators and students want to do can’t happen. The chancellor’s plan provides the tools and focus school communities need if we are to meet this challenge,”

Antisemitism in NYC Schools: What Teachers are Feeling

Protesting antisemitism in NYC
Antisemitism has exploded in New York City and around the world in the wake of the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks in Israel, with many rallies held to counter pro-Palestinian protests that have featured antisemitic remarks.Photo by Dean Moses

Many NYC teachers and parents have expressed anger and concern that the city and DOE hasn’t done enough to protect Jewish teachers, students and others who support Israel on school grounds.

In October, Jewish students at Cooper Union, a private college in Manhattan, were locked in their school’s library to stay safe while pro-Palestinian demonstrators pounded on the doors and shouted. 

Then, in November, hundreds of students at Hillcrest High School in Queens acted disruptively, calling for a teacher to be fired because she supports Israel. Several of the students who were involved in the disruption were given disciplinary action, according to the DOE. 

One New York City social studies teacher, who is Jewish and requested anonymity when speaking with amNewYork Metro, said the DOE “hasn’t done anything” to protect teachers and students. She’s glad that the agency now has a plan in place, but hopes it will be enough to keep staff and students safe. 

“I think the plan would be good just because we need to see more people putting support out there,” the teacher said. “I’m interested to see what the plan is. Because it has to be a plan that will not alienate others and cause a bigger rift. I think if there isn’t a part which actually punishes the antisemitism, it will unfortunately fail.”

Isabella, a Jewish preschool teacher in Queens, experienced antisemitism in the NYC public schools in 2007. After a fellow teacher, whom she considered a mentor, treated her differently for being Jewish and adhering to a Kosher diet, she chose to leave the public school system to teach at a private preschool. 

“It was one of the most horrible experiences I’ve had,” she said. “When she found out I was Jewish, from then on, she kept me at a distance, belittled my lesson planning and made my life horrible.”

Isabella added that she’s had other teachers tell her that they’ve had to change their names on social media so that students wouldn’t attack them for supporting Israel. She’s skeptical about whether a plan to combat antisemitism in the public schools would be helpful, but she’s still hopeful.

“I don’t think it’ll help, but let’s see,” she said.