A Tenafly school teacher has resigned following a 5th-grader’s presentation of the “accomplishments” of Adolph Hitler.
The school principal – who’d been suspended with the teacher – is being reinstated, under a vote by the Tenafly Board of Education Monday night.
Following the recommendations of Schools Supt. Shauna DeMarco, trustees accepted the unidentified Maugham Elementary School teacher’s resignation -- which will come after a leave of absence ends in January 2022 -- and agreed to return Principal Jennifer Ferrara to the job she’s held for more than a decade.
Both had been on paid administrative leave pending the board’s decision.
School Board President Jocelyn Schwarz called DeMarco’s review “thorough, well-executed and [containing] the answers the board needed to move forward.”
"While everyone might not agree with my ultimate recommendations,” the superintendent said Monday night, “it's important to know that I have taken every piece of feedback that I have received seriously. I'm so appreciative of how engaged our community is around our students' education."
Ferrara, for her part, said: "As a school leader, I definitely made mistakes that played a role in what happened, and for that, I take full responsibility and I'm eternally sorry. This experience has taught me to think more broadly about the consequences of every decision that I make."
The principal promised to help make the community more inclusive.
DeMarco had previously said she believed that the “curriculum and learning standards were not appropriately implemented,” which led to the suspensions of both while she investigated why the presentation was assigned and subsequent concerns apparently were ignored.
“An attempt to individualize the project resulted in the student receiving misguided instruction from the teacher,” she’d said.
The result, DeMarco said at the time, was a presentation that was “offensive and inappropriate and directly violated the school board's policies.”
Board members initially issued a statement claiming that the offensive presentation -- which included a the mass-murdering Nazi Party tyrant's photo and a list of "accomplishments" in a school hallway -- was “taken out of context” by parents who “did not understand the assignment.”
A copy of the assignment obtained by Daily Voice encouraged the pupils to, among other things:
- Describe what made their subject famous;
- Provide “examples of his/her accomplishments”;
- Describe “what impact” the subject had on the world;
- Explain what you “admire most about your subject”;
- Include “what important life lessons you could learn” from the subject’s life.”
The female student, in turn, dressed as Hitler and produced a handwritten "accomplishments" essay that hung for weeks in a school hallway along with a photo of the Nazi leader.
These include “uniting a great mass of German and Austrian people behind me."
"My beli(e)f in antisemitism drove me to kill more than 6 million Jews," the essay says. “I was very popular, and many people followed me until I died."
Parents rallied to the defense of the teacher, Ferrara and the student, agreeing that the youngster intended to show how truly “horrible” Hitler was by how he must have viewed himself.
Rabbi Jordan Millstein said he met with the family and was heartbroken by the harm the entire affair has done to an innocent 11-year-old girl, whom he called "wonderful, bright and sweet."
"Because they did not speak English, they did not understand the assignment," said Millstein of Temple Sinai of Bergen County.
The girl told her parents that "she wanted to learn about where hate comes from, as Asian Americans are experiencing so much hate aimed at them right now," the rabbi said. "So she chose a person who was famous for his racist and anti-Semitic hate for her project.
"Then she just followed the directions that the teacher had given them for the project, which included dressing up as Hitler for her presentation to the class.
"She did not know she was doing anything wrong," Millstein said. "Now she is afraid to go to school as she has heard from her friends that people are saying she did a terrible thing and everyone is angry at her."
It wasn't the child or her parents' fault, the rabbi emphasized.
"It was the teacher’s and the school’s responsibility. They put [her] in a terrible situation."
For DeMarco, the circumstances represented "a failure in both providing the safe learning environment that all our kids need to learn and grow, as well as a failure in the school’s initial handling."
The superintendent said she was aiming to determine “where mistakes were made and why the principal at the school did not act on concerns that were raised,” as well as “what steps are necessary to ensure something like this does not happen again.”
“This has had a devastating impact on the student involved and their family, who have been thrown into turmoil through no fault of their own,” DeMarco wrote. “It has also been incredibly painful for our Jewish community members in the face of increasing instances of antisemitism around the country.”
DeMarco thanked “parents, teachers, religious and cultural leaders, and many other concerned Tenafly residents” for their feedback.
“I hope this investigation demonstrates how seriously we take what has happened and our commitment to creating a safe and comfortable environment for our children to learn about the world,” she added.
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