A shocking presentation by a fifth-grade student about Adolph Hitler “has been taken out of context,” the Tenafly Board of Education announced on Tuesday.
Parents “did not understand the assignment, resulting in justifiable concerns,” the board said, in part.
The statement (in full below) caught some parents by surprise.
Tenafly Schools Supt. Shauna DeMarco had told them that she was investigating the incident at the Ralph S. Maugham School.
"We are on top of this at multiple levels and will determine proper actions once due process has been afforded to all involved parties and a full investigation has been completed," the superintendent wrote in a follow-up email on Monday.
Now, it seems, the matter has quickly been resolved.
Concerns were raised after it was learned that a female student dressed as Hitler and handwrote an essay of “accomplishments” that was hung in a hallway along with a photo of the the mass-murdering Nazi Party tyrant in April.
The essay and photo apparently hung there for weeks before concerns became public last week – and both were removed, parents said.
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.”
Writing in the first person, the student cited "accomplishments" by the mass-murdering Nazi Party tyrant.
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."
Following the superintendent’s email on Friday, word of the project continued to spread among outraged parents and other residents through the Memorial Day weekend. (Story continues below.)
Even Tenafly Mayor Mark Zinna weighed in, arguing, in part, that “no discussion of the murderer of six million Jewish people can ever be presented in a positive light. We have a responsibility to show our children right and wrong, and what we teach them now can impact their moral compass for years to come."
It wasn't immediately clear how the Tenafly Board of Education assembled a quorum to construct and approve the conclusion that was issued on Tuesday:
“We fully appreciate the concerns that have arisen regarding a fifth-grade class assignment on social norms and historical figures who personify good and evil. Unfortunately, this assignment has been taken out of context, resulting in understandable anger and concern.
“The assignment (which was given by a teacher who happens to be Jewish) asked students to speak from the perspective of one of these individuals and how they might have perceived and rationalized their actions.
“When people saw the students’ projects, which were displayed in the school, they did not understand the assignment, resulting in justifiable concerns.
“Given that the lesson was specifically issued within the context of social justice, it is unfair to judge any student or teacher in this matter. Tenafly Public Schools condemn antisemitism, racism, and bias of any kind.
“We hope that after reviewing these facts you will join with us to help our community begin the healing process.”
While a couple of parents welcomed the board’s response, several others expressed shock similar to when the original news broke.
“I'd love to see the original assignment from the teacher in writing,” one wrote. “The BOE is saying that the assignment dealt with social norms and historical figures that personified good and evil. Yet in one of the groups, a mom with a child in the class mentioned that her child did the assignment on a baseball player.
“I wonder how many other children chose figures who personified evil," the parent added. "This seems like a cover-up by the BOE and it's disturbing.”
Another parent questioned why “it's hard for this district to own its mistakes.”
“This one was a doozie. It was a terrible error in judgment,” she wrote. “But as we all know, even unfortunate and unintended mistakes have consequences. It's why we warn our kids not to post party pics on social media.
“You can't convince me that a 3-minute presentation on Hitler, presented by a child who clearly did not realize the sheer ignominy of the man whose voice she was channeling, is at all educational.
“And what truly galls me and angers me and hurts me most is that not for one second have we considered the children in that class who were subjected to that bit of historical impersonation, who have also watched their grandparents and relatives continue to wrestle with the Holocaust, who have seen the tears and trauma that lingers even to this day at the very mention of Hitler,” she wrote.
“But sure, let's go ahead and pretend this was all a productive educational exercise,” she added.
“The only adult in the room thought it was ok for a *child* to do this” while ignoring “the obvious inappropriateness and offensiveness of it all,” the mom wrote. When people, complained, she said, “those objections were dismissed.”
“I wouldn't want this person babysitting my children, let alone teaching them with that kind of poor judgment," she added " But here we are saying that an error of judgment of this magnitude is perfectly reasonable, no less in a district with a sizable Jewish population and a well-regarded district where our teachers are supposed to be the end-all [and] be-all. Am I the only who thinks this is nuts?!”
Another parent wrote: “This does not address the fact that this was displayed in the hallways of Maugham, to all passersby, who were not in this alleged 'context'? How are 5th Graders, who are not yet old enough to learn about the Holocaust, supposedly able to understand the difference between 'speak in Hitler's voice for a day' and advocating Hitler's views?”
Parents didn’t expect the issue to die. Plans were being made to attend a board meeting, among other measures.
The New Jersey chapter of the non-profit Israeli American Council also launched a protest letter-writing campaign, with plans to deliver printed versions of emails to DeMarco, the schools schief.
"The NJ community cannot stay silent about this," the council wrote.
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