Chancellor Banks doubles down on plan to battle hate in NYC schools: ‘I’m taking this very seriously’

Schools Chancellor David Banks
Schools Chancellor David Banks said on Jan. 30, 2024 he is committed to fighting antisemitism and Islamophobia in the city’s public schools.
NYC Mayoral Photography Unit

Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry continue to surge across the country but will be met with clear response in NYC public schools, Chancellor David Banks said.

Banks made the bold statement during a roundtable discussion with reporters on Tuesday, where he discussed more information about his plan for combating antisemitism and Islamophobia in public schools.

The city’s schools chancellor announced his anti-bigotry plan this month after multiple acts of violence and aggression occurred in city schools following the Palestinian terror group Hamas’ brutal attack on the Israeli people on Oct. 7 last year.

In November, students at Hillcrest High School in Queens acted disruptively, calling for a teacher to be fired because she supports Israel. This month, a teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn displayed a map of the Middle East omitting Israel, though the map was subsequently removed from the classroom. This week, two Brooklyn public school teachers were accused of promoting anti-Israel propaganda in their elementary school classroom, as reported by the New York Post

“I’m taking this very seriously,” Banks said during the discussion. “When hate rears its head at our schools, whether it’s Islamophobia, antisemitism or any form of bigotry, we’re going to respond. Hatred has no place anywhere in our schools, and we’re going to do everything we can to deal with it.”

A major part of the planned response focuses on classroom-facing support for educators. Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, many NYC educators, especially history and social studies teachers, are choosing to avoid discussions about the topic in classrooms out of fear of being labeled Islamophobic or antisemitic. Many of these teachers have students who come from Jewish or Arab backgrounds. 

Meanwhile, other teachers, parents and every-day New Yorkers report that kids are getting information about the war—often inaccurate information—from TikTok and other social media platforms.

“No one wants to be accused of being Islamophobic or antisemitic,” Banks said. “So, many of our adults would rather put their heads in the sand and not deal with it.”

Professional development

To help educators be more prepared, starting this spring, all middle- and high-school principals will participate in professional learning focused on navigating difficult conversations that can be very politically and emotionally charged. The DOE will also expand its instructional resources and materials focused on antisemitism and Islamophobia that include input from the interfaith community. 

The plan focuses on protecting adults as much as it does children in city schools. Banks said over the next few months, there will be improvements to make sure adults feel safe, too.

All DOE principals will receive updated professional learning on safety. This includes retraining on how to apply the discipline code to respond to in-school incidents with appropriate and direct consequences while also providing opportunities to educate and remediate behavior in ways that help students grow. 

“I believe very much in restorative justice in helping kids to learn, understand and grow for bad behavior and bad judgment,” Banks said. “And there are times when we have to have those conversations, and there are other times when we have to have more direct consequences for bad behavior.” 

A NYC public elementary school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous when speaking with amNewYork Metro, said it is “upsetting” how some teachers are choosing to take sides when discussing the war with students.  

“Jews are being treated as a marginalized group, but not recognized as such,” she said. “No one would think of saying such things about any other racial or religious group to a room full of children, but if it’s about Jews and Israel, educators think it’s ok.”

When asked if she thinks the chancellor’s plan will work, the teacher said she’ll “wait and see.”