Schools Chancellor Banks to testify before Congress in May at hearing on antisemitism

NYC school chancellor David Banks testifies at City Council hearing
New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks testifies at the Education Committee Preliminary Budget hearing on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
Courtesy of New York City Council.

Schools Chancellor David Banks will testify in front of Congress next month about what he has done to combat antisemitism in the city’s public school system. 

Banks said last Thursday that he received a letter from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, requiring him under subpoena to testify at the May 8 hearing. 

The news comes after presidents of several U.S. universities went through similar controversial, headline-making hearings last year. One of those testimonies came from Claudine Gay, the former president of Harvard University who faced criticism for failing to condemn calls from students seeking genocide against Israel following the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks. Soon after the hearing, Gay was also accused of plagiarism, and in January she resigned from her position at the school. 

Former University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill also resigned from her position following the extensive congressional hearings last year. U.S. Congress Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC), is the head of the committee.

Banks said he is looking forward to the hearing. 

“We look forward to sharing how NYC public schools continue to deliver an environment of tolerance and respect for the largest and most diverse school district in the nation,” the chancellor said of his upcoming hearing with Congress. 

Banks said he will be joined by representatives from two other school districts. It is not clear yet which districts he was referring to. 

He also said he believes antisemitism is the “number one hate issue in the nation,” adding that it has to be addressed. 

“We are doing our best to meet the moment here in NYC and in our schools. I think we have done a number of things already to meet the moment. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of what we’ve done. I think we’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”

Antisemitism and bigotry incidents in NYC public schools

NYC public schools faced several incidents of antisemitism and other forms of hate since the terror group, Hamas, attacked Israel on Oct. 7, which led to the continuing Israel – Hamas war in Gaza. Both teachers and students have reported acts of violence and harassment on school grounds in recent months. 

In November 2023, hundreds of students at Hillcrest High School in Queens aggressively advocated for a teacher at the school to be fired because of her support for Israel. 

In January, Rita Lahoud, a teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn, allegedly displayed a map of the Middle East on a classroom wall that did not include Israel. Parents across the city expressed anger and concern over the map, some questioning how the map was allowed to be displayed.

According to a DOE spokesperson, the map was removed as soon as school officials were made aware of the concerns. 

Public school teachers across the city have grappled with how to talk about the war with their students. Although Banks had sent out several emails to teachers in the early days of the war advising and instructing them on how to talk to students about the topic, many were still afraid to discuss it out of fear of becoming victims of violence or harassment, or losing their jobs. 

But in January, Banks rolled out a plan to battle antisemitism and Islamophobia in city schools. The plan, which is currently being implemented in the school system, includes a section on how teachers can discuss the war and similar topics with students.