Several concerned residents believe teachers and students in the School District of Philadelphia express antisemitism without impunity, including in an off-campus educator event they say excluded Jewish teachers.
In letters submitted to the school board for its Jan. 25 meeting, a handful of residents said Jewish students are afraid to disclose their identities at school “and are being faced with ridicule by other students and SDP employees.”
The letters cite “numerous” unspecified incidents across multiple schools “that have contributed to unsafe learning conditions in our children’s classrooms and environments.”
Teachers have also been accused of “blurring the lines between their personal opinions and misconceptions and their professional roles.”
The residents criticized the district’s social studies curriculum and the “wide latitude” teachers get to share antisemitic views in the classroom, “making Jewish students a target for hate.”
On Jan. 13, Racial Justice Philly organized a Palestine Teach-In event at an undisclosed location only available to those registered. In the letter, residents say Jewish teachers were excluded from the training.
“Jewish voices were silenced so that dangerous mischaracterizations of Israel as a white, colonist oppressor could be perpetuated without context or counterpoint,” the letter said.
Hannah Gann, a district teacher, told The Center Square that registration for the event only wanted evidence of a direct role in teaching students and never asked for religious affiliation. Further, the location was undisclosed to protect attendees after Gann herself said she was doxxed for her views.
The situation meant the school she works in received angry and threatening calls and emails – a distressing situation she didn’t want to see repeated across the district.
The Philadelphia Board of Education told The Center Square on Wednesday that officials received the letters and thanked those who wrote them for reaching out.
Janice Hatfield, the board’s spokeswoman, said in an email that the event occurred off-campus and was sponsored by the Racial Justice Organizing Committee – not the district.
“Additionally, our response said that the board and district continue to ensure our teachers and staff teach material in accordance with our guidelines,” she said.
Racial Justice Philly reiterated on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the event was held on a Saturday and unaffiliated with the district itself. Teachers who attended discussed how to approach lessons about the conflict between Israel and Hamas that highlight the subjugation Palestinians have experienced as a result.
The group also, during last week’s school board meeting, shot down testimony that curriculum staff came to the training.
“Nor did they write or provide any materials,” the group said in a message posted to its account. “Folks who want to testify should do so accurately.”
Gann reiterated this point to The Center Square on Sunday.
She also clarified that the organization itself wanted to offer a safer space for teachers to discuss their views and better understand ways to support students impacted by genocide and violence across the world.
In history class, for example, Gann said students could read primary sources from Palestinians and Israelis about their personal experiences with the decades of conflict in the region. Students could use these sources to form their own views, while also learning how and why to seek out information beyond what’s offered in mainstream media.
In a Nov. 8 statement posted to its Instagram account, the organizing committee expressed its views “on the violence many countries and peoples are experiencing as a result of colonization and current settler colonialist practices.”
In the statement, the group describes itself “as educators committed to racial justice and collective liberation” who stand “with the people of Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Haiti and all other lands impacted by colonial violence around the world.”
“We recognize that our struggles are inextricably intertwined due to the historical legacy and continued oppression of peoples as a result of white supremacy and colonialism,” the statement continues.
“We encourage educators to teach the whole truth of colonization as both history and current reality, while centering the voices and experiences of students who are most impacted by genocide and other forms of settler and colonial violence.”
Gann stood by the statement, pointing to recent confirmation from UN experts that qualified Israel’s bombardment of Palestine as genocide, as well as atrocities in Sudan.
The statement was the first from the group on Instagram in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack against Israeli citizens that has ignited a months-long military campaign in Gaza, Palestine. The Gaza Ministry of Health, in multiple media reports, has said that more than 27,000 people have died and another 1 million have been displaced amid the fighting.
In the letters to the school board, residents say district employees have conflated American Jews, Zionists, Israel and Israelis “into one group” for which negative commentary encourages anger, violence and harassment against Jewish students.
“The board’s and the district’s continued silence in the face of widespread anti-Semitism is unacceptable. Your students are counting on you to protect them,” the letters conclude.
Gann said she’s unaware of any recent antisemitic behavior since Oct. 7, though she’s heard broader reports of Islamophobia and anti-Arab discrimination.