May 31, 2019
A Chicago-area school district came under fire for promoting a course for educators called "Teaching Palestine," which officials eventually said was "one-sided." Critics called it "anti-Semitic" propaganda.
The controversial course, offered by Teachers for Social Justice, covered the "Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Palestine liberation struggle," according to a description obtained by the Jewish News Syndicate, or JNS.
Goals for the anti-Israel course include “concrete strategies for how to respond to Zionist professional developments and curricula or when parents/staff/others object to anti-Zionist curriculum."
The course also offered "curriculum connections between Palestine and issues affecting our students, such as: state/police violence, the struggle for racial justice in the U.S., settler colonialism in Palestine and the U.S., access to education for historically marginalized youth.”
The district, which oversees Niles North High School and Niles West High School, sent out an email to staff May 22 for training opportunities "related to racial equality and social justice." On Thursday, however, it apologized.
"These Summer Inquiry to Action Groups (ItAGs) meet on various topics identified and developed by educators throughout the Chicago area...this course was not developed by the district, and the district was never going to provide continuing education credits or lane advancement credit for the course," Dr. Steven Isoye, superintendent, La Wanna Wells, director of equity, and Jim Szczepaniak, director of community relations and strategic partnerships, wrote in a joint statement.
"We then heard from teachers and members of our community who were concerned about the one-sided nature of this course that addresses a very complex topic. We recognize that without multiple perspectives surrounding this topic, we created a sense of exclusion by including this offering. We should have noted this before including the course and apologize for this mistake. Therefore, we are retracting the course from the list of offerings that were shared."
Jewish Voice for Peace, a national anti-Israel group, reportedly provided information for the course.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, and StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group, celebrated the school's reversal.
“We were gratified to receive a call from Steven Isoye, superintendent of Niles High School District, in response to the [StandWithUs] protest canceling the course and to have also received the district’s formal statement acknowledging its error,” Simon Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Chicago-based Midwest director Alison Slovin told JNS.
“We are pleased that District 219 acknowledged that their Teaching Palestine course was one-sided and inadequate to address a very complex topic, and that it created a sense of exclusion for Jewish and pro-Israel students,” Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs CEO, told JNS.
District officials promised to "develop a more rigorous set of standards to determine what professional development opportunities we share with our staff in the future."
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