A Canadian Jewish advocacy group is calling for swift action following a report that students at a Toronto school performed a Nazi salute in front of a Jewish teacher.
Several antisemitic incidents took place at Valley Park Middle School last Thursday, including three students performing a “Hitler salute” in front of their teacher and classmates.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) said in a statement that it spoke with the teacher, “who remains deeply traumatized by the incident that took place inside her grade 8 classroom.”
According to the teacher, two students stood on a filing cabinet and gave the Nazi salute and a third student yelled “Heil Hitler” from his desk.
Antisemitic graffiti was also found at the school.
The incident is “very upsetting and unacceptable. We take great pride in our school as a welcoming, safe, and inclusive place and this has always been our message to students,” said the school’s principal, George Bartzis, in a letter sent home to parents. “It is also not reflective of who we are and what we stand for as a school and as a community.”
The letter stated that as soon as school administrators found out about the incidents, they “took immediate steps to address the issue and we continue to investigate.
It went on to say: “On behalf of Valley Park Middle School, we acknowledge and regret the harm this incident caused to members of our school community and to our shared school climate. We are committed to the work of intentionally identifying, interrupting, and addressing racism and discrimination in our school, with a focus on antisemitism.”
The school said that it will be addressing the incident and that they are consulting with Toronto School Board equity advisors to “establish new strategies and tools for addressing antisemitism” while also continuing to “educate our students in human rights education so that we can learn form our past in order to bette our future as an inclusive society.” They will also be hosting a Holocaust testimony presentation in March.
The school added that it is making social workers available to students who require support.
The incident occurred only a few weeks after swastika graffiti was discovered at the same school, according to the TDSB. FSWC noted that two weeks ago, students performed a Nazi salute and depicted the swastika in front of students at another Toronto school.
FSWC is urging the TDSB to intervene in order to address the serous escalation of antisemitic incidents at Toronto schools.
“This wave of antisemitism at TDSB schools that we are seeing is unprecedented in terms of both number of incidents and their escalating gravity. This most recent incident involving a Jewish teacher is particularly horrifying,” said FSWC CEO Michael Levitt. “Antisemitism has reached epidemic proportions at TDSB, and it is time for the board to recognize this as the crisis that it is. It is unfathomable and shocking that, in 2022, a Jewish teacher is faced with Nazi salutes and a ‘Heil Hitler’ chant in her classroom. Clearly, something is broken in Toronto’s public school system and requires immediate attention.”
The organization is demanding an “emergency intervention” by the TDSB to address the “wave of antisemitism that we see playing out within the student body.”
They urged the board to implement a program “which will proactively address the hateful stereotypes and misinformation that exist and send a strong message that Jew-hatred will simply not be tolerated within our schools.”