Newton School Superintendent Agrees to Provide Safe Spaces for Jewish and Israeli Students Bullied by Teachers and Other Students

by Karen Hurvitz

Attorney for Education Without Indoctrination

NEWTON, Mass. – As compelled by Education Without Indoctrination (EWI)’s lawsuit against them, the Newton School Committee met in open session on November 14 to reconsider the extension of Superintendent David Fleishman’s contract, which they had voted to extend secretly and illegally last year by private emails among themselves. The room was packed with people who had come to speak in opposition to the extension.

Although many people requested to be heard, only nine people were allowed to present their views. Unlike elected committees in other towns, the school committee in Newton does not engage in dialogue with the public; instead, it allots “public comment” for a limited and brief period ahead of any of their discussions on any topic on their agenda, so there is nothing interactive or responsive about the process. In other towns, the committees announce the items on their agenda one by one, and ask if the public would like to comment on that item before the item is discussed. They respond directly to the concerns brought forward during their discussion. The procedure used by the Newton School Committee is calculated to, and does, separate concerns voiced by the public from their discussions.

The people who spoke in opposition to Fleishman were met, as usual, with stone-faced silence from Fleishman and the members of the school committee.

Newton residents Jim Epstein and Norman Greenberg, attorneys from Newton whose children had gone through the Newton school system, Susan Toochin, Leslie Alger, Nir Maimon, and Richard Sollinger, also Newton parents, spoke eloquently and passionately about the tragedy of students being intentionally mis-educated by activist teachers and the damage that this is causing – and has already caused for seven years – to young minds.

Two speakers referenced the fact that the Israeli American Council and the school committee had worked out a deal to provide safe spaces for Jewish and Israeli students because they had been bullied by teachers and students. In sad point of fact, Fleishman’s rally in support of the teachers who promote the anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli propaganda that substitutes for objective teaching the very day after the community-wide meeting hosted by the Israeli American Council to address the issues in the curriculum made things WORSE for the Jewish and Israeli students. They were confronted and bullied as a result. The speakers pointed out that the creation of safe spaces indicated that Newton’s public schools (NPS) is aware of the problem, and that it’s incomprehensible that NPS is not addressing the cause of the problem.

Creating safe spaces (whatever that means) for students when they feel threatened because of their Jewish identity is treating the symptoms instead of the disease. If Jewish students are being bullied, NPS should remove the reason for the bullying – a curriculum which instills hatred for Israel and Jews.

The speakers noted that NPS has never taken their concerns seriously. One said that it is as if the school committee has been hypnotized by Fleishman, since they have ignored his admitted plagiarism (an act of academic dishonesty which would have been enough to get other superintendents fired) and his adamant refusal to examine any flaws in the curriculum.

True to form, when the time came to deliberate the extension of Fleishman’s contract, there was not one word of how he is contributing to the atmosphere of hatred in the schools. School Committeeman Matthew Miller said Fleishman, “is equal parts leader and educator.” “David evolves and is open to listening to criticism.”

Others praised his ability to choose strong staff members

They all agreed that he is a wonderful superintendent.

The Newton School Committee is operating in a parallel universe – one that ignores the facts on the ground and advances its own agenda.

Education Without Indoctrination is a community group formed to get the Newton Public Schools to address the problem of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and pro-Islam teaching materials in its curriculum. You can read about its work at:
www.EducationWithoutIndoctrination.org.

 

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Transcripts of speakers from the Nov. 14, 2018 Newton School Committee Meeting (not necessarily in sequence of presentation):

Jim Epstein:

My name is Jim Epstein and I’m a long time resident at 110 Manchester Road, Newton Highlands, having had two daughters go through the Newton Public Schools. I’m going to read my brief remarks to make sure I get it all in.

Now, in spite of how professional, formal and proper Chair Goldman, the school committee and the superintendent appear at these public meetings, there’s another side to all this. That side was on display the morning of Thursday, October 11, 2018, a school day, on Newton North High School property, where Superintendent Fleishman participated in a videotaped rally without requisite permit I may add, along with some Newton North teachers and students to garner student support for teacher-led curricula hostile to the state of Israel – where opponents to his tenure and of the anti-Israel curriculum, like myself, were labeled, quote, ‘hate groups’ and, quote, ‘outside groups’ with, quote, ‘hateful agendas,’ quote, ‘unprincipled behavior,’ quote,’baseless accusations without any evidence, without any proof,’ unquote.

To those of us who have repeatedly criticized the superintendent’s stone-cold silence to our objections over many years, the superintendent has actually now replied, without any review as required by regulation of the curriculum. He’s replied by calling us hate groups, outside groups, hateful agendas; we have hateful agendas, unprincipled behavior, and he was at the rally where the teachers basically said these statements.

His sanctioning of these actions and statements, even participation and organization of the rally itself, surely must constitute the superintendent’s breach of the terms of his tenure.

Now just think if you were a student at Newton North, who happened to be a pro-Israeli Jew or a pro-Israeli Israeli, watching the superintendent and teachers organizing and leading such a rally? Talk about intimidation. Talk about remaining fearfully silent. And think about that in terms of [the] superintendent’s utter lack of good faith compliance with Massachusetts’ regulations requiring that he review the curriculum.

Which leads to this and I’ll point this out: Retaining Superintendent Fleishman – is the city of Newton essentially buying at the expense of Newton taxpayers more litigation? That’s a certainty.

Timekeeper:  30 seconds, Jim.

Jim Epstein:

OK, will the school committee openly consider these points in its deliberation on Superintendent Fleishman’s contract? We all know the answer. Even with the certainty of litigation, and that expense … to add that expense to the salary being negotiated in the superintendent’s contract. Because it most assuredly will be substantial in terms of time, money, and effort. Again, costs to be borne by the Newton taxpayers. I submit this statement for the record.

Leon Mintz:

Hello. My name is Leon Mintz. I live in Acton, Massachusetts. In 1971, in the heat of Soviet, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigns, Soviet Jews increased their push for the freedom of emigration. In response, Soviet authorities organized so-called press conferences of the core Jews. In the presence of the foreign reporters, these Jews had been reading prepared text, praising the Soviet Union and denouncing freedom. Dr. Fleishman and Ruth Goldman follow the same road. The schools are teaching the same lies that the Soviet Union propagated in [the] 1970s. When parents and the other citizens protested, Dr. Fleishman and his Democratic Socialist teachers’ organized meetings where he denied anti-Semitism in Newton schools, and presented speakers to praise the schools. Students’ speeches contained very high praise for history teachers and a list of the great history classes that [students] took. I asked him [a student] a very simple question about the Middle East history, and he  said that he never studied it. I wonder who really wrote the core of his speech…

Boris Jacobson:

My name is Boris Jacobson. I live in western Massachusetts. A recent attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 people dead, and ushered [in] a new reality, a curse of the old world. A massacre of Jews came to the United States. Yet, atrocious as this crime is, it targeted individuals and did not threaten the existence of [the] American Jewish community. What is much more insidious is a progressive anti-Semitism that gains acceptance in all society. It’s clothed in misplaced compassion, and whitewashes crimes of Israel’s enemies from the daylight members of Hamas and Hezbollah to the terrorists of the PLO. It runs by people in authority. The new anti-Semitism blames Israel for all Middle East’s, if not the world’s, problems, and desensitizes the public to Jew hatred.

Sadly, this progressive anti-Semitism is promoted in the Newton schools. Is the school’s superintendent, Mr. Fleishman, oblivious? Worse, he defends it in an email filled with half truths and outright lies, sent to Newton residents.

Mr. Fleishman ignores the June 11, 2018 joint letter from the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council asking him to provide a full accounting of all content used in the anti-Israel, May 2, Middle East Day, as well as a follow up letter from the same groups, criticizing the absence of diverse views and perspectives.

By defending the anti-Semitic curriculum and stonewalling critics, Mr. Fleishman made himself part of the problem. His actions discredit the town and do a grave harm to the students. As he shows no apparent intent to resign, I ask the Newton School board to fire him.

Anti-Semitism must be stopped before it creeps into the nation’s conscience and becomes an acceptable public position. It belongs neither in our schools nor our country.

Thank you for your attention.

Jerry Tuite:

Jerry Tuite, Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Last night, the Israeli American Committee [IAC] published its agreement with the Newton school committee on steps promised by the Newton committee to be taken to alleviate the atmosphere of intimidation felt by Jewish and Israeli students in the system. That the committee is willing to work with that national agency, headquartered in Los Angeles with offices around the country, is good news. That Israeli and Jewish students have need of an outside agency for protection within their own community would seem to indicate a failure on the part not only of the school leadership, but of the city’s leadership as well.

The agreement itself, signed by the IAC, superintendent and school committee, offers as part of the solution to the problem that the IAC is now a place through which Newton students feeling threatened may seek protection from harassment within their own schools.

So while the agreement is good news, it is an admission of a failure by Newton’s leadership across the board to provide a safe, welcoming and accepting place for American Jews and Israelis. This should not happen anywhere in America, but if this can happen in Newton it can happen anywhere in America. Thank you.

Susan Toochin:

Good evening. My name is Susan Ramler Toochin. I live at 98 Clifton Road and I’ve been a resident of Newton for 37 years. And thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight.

Superintendent Fleishman has ignored every email, letter and plea from concerned residents since we first became aware of the curriculum issues. This has been going on for many years now. He also ignored CAMERA’s reports on the inaccuracies, lies and bias towards Israel.

As disappointing and shameful as his conduct has been, ignoring repeated calls for help, he added insult to injury when he wrote a letter to the parents and guardians absolutely denying that there is anything wrong with the materials being taught. He went on claiming they are in an exercise in, and I quote, ‘critical thinking.’ Lies and bias are not critical thinking.

He promised in an October, 2017 letter to the ADL, he would remove the false materials from the curriculum. He never did. He also supports teachers who admit they will disobey directives to be objective in their teaching. Let me repeat that. He supports teachers who admit they will disobey directives to be objective in their teaching.

Then there was the Middle East Day in Newton North this past May of 2018. The point of the Day is a good one, to show both sides and allow both sides to talk and to be together. But this did not happen. It was clearly only pro-Palestinian views [were] presented.

I have seen the film shown, ‘Ismail.’ Beyond the inaccuracies, or should I say lies, the film said so much without verbally saying a word. It was a true example of subliminal messaging. It was clearly an anti-Israel film that was supported by a group called the Electronic Intifada. This is a vehemently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic group. Its co-founder and executive director, Ali Abunimah – and excuse me if I pronounce that wrong – is a leading BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel] advocate.

One last point to remember: The inexcusably poor handling of the anti-Semitic incidents at Day Junior about three years ago. The principal at Day was rewarded for his horrible mishandling – actually lack of handling of the situation – with the job in the school administration office.

Mr. Fleishman has shown that he is not a man of his word and is not doing what is best for all Newton schoolchildren. He should not be our superintendent. Thank you.

Norman Greenberg:

My name is Norman Greenberg. I live at 20 Donna Road. I’ve been a resident of the city of Newton since 1973. That’s 45 years. My law offices have been on Needham Street for the past 12 years. I have two children that attended Spaulding/Brown and graduated from Newton South. I have three younger stepsons, who several years later followed the same path. Even my wife, Judy, who’s lived here her entire life in this city, attended the same three public schools, believe it or not.

I’ve been following the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and biased curriculum controversy over the past six or seven years from the sidelines, having attended four or five of these school committee meetings during this period of time as an observer without speaking before this committee. I have now decided to add my voice to the rightfully concerned individuals and groups that have spoken out in the past.

I kept assuming that Dr. Fleishman, on his own volition, or the school committee, would take positive and specific steps to correct this bias and lack of transparency. Isn’t there enough anti-Semitism percolating in this country? As recently evidenced by Squirrel Hill? Without the education department of the city of Newton with its major Jewish population, much like Squirrel Hill, encouraging anti-Semitic, anti-Israel emotions and mindsets?

According to the FBI statistics, Jews are by far the most frequent targets of religiously-based hate crimes. Does this city need to encourage this?

My fellow Jews and I and non-Jews as well, who have spoken before you many times in the past, are clearly offended and upset by the obviously biased curriculum and other classroom materials and by your refusal to change it and acknowledge your mistakes.

Isn’t the fact that a significant number of Jewish citizens of this city are offended enough of a reason for you, Dr. Fleishman? Even if you don’t agree with them, to take appropriate action to change the curriculum and related materials and create the requested transparency?

These are not isolated requests of a fringe group. I hope all the members of this committee have taken the time to read carefully the well-researched, scholarly analysis written about this subject matter published last year by the highly regarded national organization, CAMERA. This book called, ‘Indoctrinating our Youth, How a U.S. Public School Curriculum… ,’ talking about Newton of course …

Timekeeper:  30 seconds, Norman

Norman G.:

I wish I had more time to discuss the contents of this book, but obviously three minutes won’t allow for that.

We’re here tonight primarily because one of the concerned organizations, Education Without Indoctrination, felt compelled to file a lawsuit against the city of Newton, which the city had to defend – a waste of our tax dollars that should have been unnecessary.

Chair: Thank you, Norman.

Norman G.:Allow me to end …

Chair:  No … all right.

Norman G.: …my presentation by asking a rhetorical question. If we were a concerned group of offended and upset Muslim parents, how long would it take Dr. Fleishman and this school committee …

Chair: Thank you, Norman.

Norman G.: … to agree to make changes to the curriculum?

Chair: Wrap up, thank you.

Norman G.: It would take you a New York minute.

 

Leslie Alger:

I’m Leslie Alger. I live at 56 Clifton Road, Newton Center, and I’ve been a Newton resident for over 30 years. This, a little worn, is a math textbook. No, it wasn’t my high school textbook. In all honesty, I used it in graduate school. However, even in high school, our math textbooks were not shrouded in secrecy. People knew what textbook we were using and they had access to be able to see what we were being taught. I don’t understand why “Middle East and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict” is shrouded – the way it is taught – is shrouded in secrecy. I don’t understand that.

I don’t understand why the citizens of Newton had to file a lawsuit in order to find out what our children were being taught. I understand that it’s a complex and very nuanced subject. But in this town and if you were to say to us, well, please just trust us, that we’re teaching it accurately and fairly, my response to that would be this book by CAMERA that was just referenced by a previous speaker.

What concerns me, we all make mistakes, and that’s understandable. But I haven’t seen this issue rectified and it’s been going on for years.

To me the answer here is full transparency and a process that would address and make sure that our students are being taught fair and accurate truth about the situation. Facts and truth about the situation in the Middle East. That’s what I’d like to see happen. My concern also is in the interim, as this issue has dragged on for years, that many years-worth of students have been exposed to biased and inaccurate material. And it also compromises the reputation of the Newton school system. Thank you.

Richard Salter:

Thank you very much. Richard Salter, been a resident of Newton my whole life. I live at Steven Place in Newton Highlands. I’m sort of surprised that we’re even having this meeting. I don’t understand why there is any question about Dr. Fleishman continuing on in his position. After his dog ate my homework excuses for plagiarism, I think that would be the end of the story – but apparently not. He went on to introduce this whole notion of critical thinking, the whole idea of critical thinking. I never heard of such a thing in schools before. But I was at a meeting when somebody said, ‘Well, my kid was taught that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers raped Palestinian women in prison.’ A kid was told this in a class at New South.

I raised this to Dr. Fleishman. He said, ‘Well, yeah, but that’s critical thinking; they have to make up their own mind about something like that.’ So I just can imagine if – and I would recommend this just as a test; I know it would never happen – if you said, ‘OK, the blacks were really in favor of slavery because they determined early on that they weren’t good at entrepreneurship and they couldn’t run farms. OK, students, now figure that one out.’ It would never happen in Newton. Of course not.

The board seems to be under the spell of Fleishman for some reason. I mean, we sit here. I’ve been to many meetings. I look at the faces of all you nice people and I see no response. I see no reaction. It is extremely frustrating to even imagine that happens.

I read the report. It was very comforting from the IAC, the Israel American Council. And their conclusion – based on interacting with the superintendent [and] the school committee – was, ‘OK, we’re going to create safe spaces in the high schools.’ Imagine that, safe spaces in the high schools so that Jewish kids and Israeli kids can feel safe and know that they’re going to be OK.

Well, I think what’s necessary and what you should all consider very seriously is maybe a classroom that speaks the truth unbiased is a safe space for everybody.

I want to end with some sad story.

Timekeeper: 30 seconds, Richard.

Richard Salter:

Thank you, 30 seconds. We’re all familiar with a fellow who crashed his car – he had MS – into a pizza shop and killed two people. And after the consideration of the court, the verdict was: He was found guilty and he’s going to spend two years in jail, excepting appeal. And what the judge said to this poor fellow, who had MS, who crashed his car speeding down a hill, was that: ‘You should have known better.’

Chair: Thank you, Richard.

Richard Salter: I’m saying to the school committee, you should know better.

Nir Maimon:

Hi, my name is Nir Maimon. I live at 8 Irving Street. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak in front of you today. So I’m currently studying cancer in MGH [Mass. General Hospital] at Harvard Medical School. I do not know Dr. Fleishman and I don’t have anything against him personally, but there are two things that I do know.

Growing up in Israel, a country that might not be perfect, but certainly aspires to be perfect, I experienced anti-Semitism firsthand and I know how to recognize it. From my professional career I also know cancer. There are parallels between cancer and anti-Semitism.

In short, both need to be discovered early and resected before it spreads That’s if you want the patient, in this case our society, to have a good survival chance. It is my opinion that Dr. Fleishman repeatedly failed in this task, and for this reason I do not think he’s suitable to continue leading the school system unless he changes actions.

A leader is someone who can unite a group of people toward a certain goal. Some leaders might be very good in leading but their goal is wrong and immoral. Critical thinking should never give stage to demonization, incitement, and hate. Freedom of speech, yes, this is what we are doing right here. Freedom to incite, no. Certainly not in our school system.

Lastly, I was happy to read in today’s message from Dr. Fleishman … you wrote, and I quote, ‘We strive to have schools that are welcoming and inclusive for all.’

The people who came here today came to say that they do not feel welcome or included. I do not feel welcome, and my kids will not feel welcome in a school that incites against the only Jewish state.

Again, I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to speak in front of you. Thank you.  ♦

 

Editor’s Note: A full public hearing has been demanded and agreed to, taking place after press-time. Well provide more coverage next issue.

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