A Tenafly school teacher and principal are both suspended while their district superintendent investigates why a student’s presentation of the “accomplishments” of Adolph Hitler was assigned, as well as why concerns about it were ignored.
A preliminary review of the 5th-grade Maugham Elementary School assignment “indicates that the curriculum and learning standards were not appropriately implemented,” said Tenafly Schools Supt. Shauna C. DeMarco (photo above).
“An attempt to individualize the project resulted in the student receiving misguided instruction from the teacher,” DeMarco noted in a message Thursday to parents and the broader community.
The result, she said, was a presentation that was “offensive and inappropriate and directly violated the school board's policies.”
DeMarco said she’s recommended that the Board of Education immediately appoint an acting principal and replacement teacher at Maugham.
The board earlier this week 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.”
Some took that to mean the matter had been dismissed.
DeMarco, however, said Thursday that she was getting to the bottom of why the assignment was allowed to happen in the first place, as well as why a photo of Hitler and the student's "accomplishments" essay “remained displayed even after some in the school community expressed concerns about its appropriateness.”
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."
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 represent "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 aims 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.”
Meanwhile, she said, “I have placed the teacher and the principal involved on administrative leave….They will remain on leave pending the conclusion of my investigation, recommendations to the board, and the board’s further action.
“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.
“Maugham parents who have been directly impacted by these events should expect additional communication soon with more detail on the immediate next steps,” the superintendent said. “The safety and well-being of Maugham School students, staff, and community remain at the forefront of our commitment to continued excellence in education.”
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