The Birmingham Jewish Federation is calling for the Mountain Brook and surrounding school systems to do more to address antisemitism among students after a video of children drawing an antisemitic symbol was taken and posted to social media by a Mountain Brook High School student.
The video shows a group of boys laughing at a shirtless boy, a Mountain Brook student, who has two large black swastikas and the word “heil” written on his back. It is unclear where the other students pictured in the video attend school.
In a press statement, Mountain Brook Schools said it “condemns all hateful ideologies and actions. The conduct exhibited in the video is in direct conflict with the values of the school system.”
District officials are investigating the incident and determining what actions can be taken because the incident did not occur on school grounds, the statement said.
The video was filmed Tuesday according to the father of the boy on whose back the drawings were made. It was shared on social media, where it was then captured and shared to a private Mountain Brook community Facebook group.
The incident goes beyond just what is depicted in the video, Cohn said.
“I think this is going to be a valuable lesson not only for the children involved,” Cohn said, “but the Mountain Brook community in general to take a hard look at the community internally and say how did we get to where these children—and they are children—would have even thought that putting a swastika on their back with the word ‘heil’ was appropriate?”
Cohn said Barlow called him Wednesday morning after the video surfaced to ask for his help. “We are working together to determine how best to educate people so that this doesn’t happen again,” Cohn said.
While the video was not taken on a school campus, Cohn said, “It’s important that these students realize they represent the school they attend.”
“The actions they chose to engage in reflect not only on them,” Cohn said, “but unfortunately now they are a reflection of the student body, whether that’s true or not.”
Cohn said in addition to the school system instituting sensitivity training and teaching students more deeply about the Holocaust, students in the video should apologize for their actions.
This is not the first incident to raise concerns in the small community.
Last year, a concerned parent submitted photos to AL.com of a swastika discovered on the door of a bathroom at Mountain Brook Junior High School and concern that school officials weren’t taking the anti-Semitic incident seriously.
At the time, Superintendent Barlow said the incident, which happened in October 2018, was investigated but they were not able to determine who was responsible.
Barlow said after the incident, school officials took action, including instituting small group discussions with students at the school where the incident occurred about what constitutes hate speech. Also, he said, faculty would be trained on “how to conduct safe discussions in class about difficult subjects like anti-Semitism or the Holocaust and increase staff supervision of the bathrooms.”
The Birmingham Jewish Federation is currently implementing a program for Jewish students in the area to help them deal with anti-Semitic hate speech, Cohn said, but schools and communities need to be involved, too.