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Another Toronto middle school investigating alleged antisemitic incident involving Nazi salute

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For the second time this month a Toronto middle school is investigating an alleged antisemitic incident in which students reportedly performed the Nazi salute in front of classmates.

TDSB spokesperson Sherry Schwartz-Maltz says that the latest incident occurred at Valley Park Middle School, in the Overlea Boulevard and Don Mills Road area, on Feb. 17.

She said that a French teacher, who is the child of Holocaust survivors, had just left her classroom and when she returned “several students surrounded her and gave her the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.”

The incident comes on the heels of a similar instance of anti-Semitism at Charles H. Best Middle School earlier this month, in which students also allegedly performed the Nazi salute.

Also this month, a teacher at a North York middle school was placed on home assignment after allegedly comparing COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the yellow star of David that Jews were forced to wear as identifiers during the Holocaust.

“This particular incident was very hateful, very hurtful and very upsetting to the teacher who happens to be Jewish. It is something that hits her in the heart and frankly all of us that work with kids, all of us work with the TDSB, it hits all of us in the heart,” Schwartz-Maltz said. “We are seeing swastika graffiti and hateful words literally every week in our schools and it has to stop.”

Group calls for board-wide action to address anti-Semitic incidents

In a letter sent home to parents, Valley Park Middle School Principal George Bartzis called the incident “upsetting and unacceptable” and vowed to use it as a “learning opportunity” with plans for students to participate in a Holocaust educational workshop in March.

However, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center is calling on the TDSB to intervene at a board-wide level to “to address the escalation in antisemitic incidents and level of seriousness of these incidents at Toronto schools.”

There have already been numerous incidents of antisemticic graffiti at TDSB schools so far in 2022, including one at Valley Park Middle School just three weeks ago.

“It is hard to fathom that in 2022 we are dealing with repeated instances of vandalism of swastikas at schools and of course today another example of Nazi salutes and chants of ‘Heil Hitler’ but this time the target is a Jewish teacher. It is a Jewish teacher that walked into a classroom and was subjected to this hateful display,” FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt said during an interview with CP24 on Tuesday morning.

“We have to start at understanding and accepting that something is completely off the rails at the TDSB when it comes to Jew hate and we need to see definitive action taken to address this systematic problem.”

In a statement released Tuesday evening, TDSB Director of Education Colleen Russell-Rawlins issued an apology to the teacher about the incident and said the board is striving to attack incidents of hate through learning.

“On behalf of the TDSB, I want to apologize specifically to the teacher, and to all the students, staff and families who are impacted by this horrific situation not only at Valley Park, but throughout our system,” Russell-Rawlins wrote.

“We strive for our schools to be safe, welcoming and inclusive, however, as incidents of antisemitism and other forms of racism and hate have risen sharply in our country and city, sadly, there are also incidents connected to our schools.”

She said that the TDSB has been advocating for changes to curriculum to include more genocide prevention education over the last two years and that she would “soon be connecting” with the Ministry of Education to reiterate the need for more support.

The Ontario government did announce last month that it would be providing $300,000 to two Jewish groups to help create bilingual classroom resources to help students recognize and address antisemitism. However it is not clear whether those resources would be integrated into the curriculum.

In the meantime, Schwartz-Maltz said that the board is committed to enhancing its existing programming, which has already seen Holocaust educator Michelle Glied Goldstein provide dozens of sessions at middle and secondary schools so far this year.

Goldstein’s sessions are based on the experience of her father, who was only 13 years old when he was separated from his family.

“I never imagined that in my life I would see what I am seeing now, I just never imagined it. Just talking about it sends shivers down my spine, it just has a visceral impact on me that is hard to explain,” Goldstein said of the rash of antisemtic incidents at TDSB schools. “I think in many cases the students really don’t’ know what they are doing and they don’t know the impact of what they are doing but they are effecting so many people with these seemingly small actions. It all starts with words and symbols but it doesn’t stop there. We know that from our history.”

Mayor John Tory also released a statement about the incident at Valley Park Middle School on Tuesday, calling it “sad” and “hurtful.”

He said that he has spoken with TDSB Chair Alexander Brown “to stress the urgency of these incidents and to discuss what we can do together” to address them.

“Clearly more education is needed,” he said.

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