North faculty stood out in solidarity against accusations of anti-conservative and anti-Semitic bias yesterday before school at 7:15 a.m.
Teachers and the administration have been grappling with accusations of anti-conservative and anti-Semitic bias against specific teachers published by The Federalist and Fox News over the past few months.
Dozens of teachers rallied at the standout holding signs saying with slogans such as, ‘We serve students, not politics’ and ‘We support Newton’s core values.’ Superintendent David Fleishman and principal Henry Turner were also at the event.
Fifteen teachers from different departments across the school formed a committee and helped coordinate this response to the allegations.
“I have two main goals for this stand out,” said English teacher Kate Mannelly, who helped organize the event. “One is to show some solidarity and that we support our teachers that are under attack, and two is to show that we won’t stand for hate speech, that we won’t be bullied by hate groups that are trying to attack our teachers.”
We want “to demonstrate that we are going to support the teachers under attack,” said Turner.
“Ultimately, we want to support students,” said Fleishman, “And so we want to make sure teachers keep doing their jobs, expose students to different perspectives, and teach students how to think for themselves.”
French teacher Isabelle Ronfard, who participated in the standout, said, “It was outstanding to see that we have the support of the administration, the principal, the vice principal, and the superintendent. They are our supervisors and guiding us in our teaching so it is extremely important to know that my colleagues are supported by the administration.”
History teacher David Bedar, one of the teachers targeted in the article, explained that the event was a “standout” instead of a “walkout” because the staff is not discontent with the administration, but rather with an outside group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT).
The controversy began when the executive director of APT, Ilya Feoktistov, published excerpts of an email discussion between history teachers in an opinion piece in The Federalist on Aug. 7. He obtained the discussion between the teachers through a public records request. Fox News “Insider” picked up the story shortly after.
More recently, The Federalist published another article by Feoktistov, “Foreign Terrorist Funders Get U.S. Public Schools To Teach Anti-Jew Propaganda.” In the article, Feoktistov accuses North of teaching curriculum that is anti-Semitic and suggests that Bedar is funded by the Qatari Foundation International (QFI).
The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Community Relations Council classifies the APT as “purveyors of hatred and division”. The group has targeted North in the past, requesting public records from the past seven years, according to Fleishman. On the APT website, articles from as early as 2011 accuse Newton educators of biased teaching material.
The stand out is “in response to any outside groups that are threatening to interfere with education. They are interfering with our ability to do our jobs,” said Bedar. The standout was just one of many responses from the Newton community after the allegations.
Fleishman released a letter to the North community Oct. 3. “Our history teachers have been singled out, harassed and subjected to harsh and unfair criticism,” he said. “These baseless claims, often reliant upon materials and documents taken out of context, are misleading and only serve to denigrate the hard work and professionalism of our skilled and dedicated faculty.”
The Newton Teachers Association (NTA) also responded, publishing a collective statement from Newton teachers titled “In Defense of Critical Thinking.” In the letter, the teachers state that APT promotes a “very narrow, Islamophobic political agenda” and that the group’s accusations have been “found baseless” by the Anti-Defamation League and various Jewish groups.
“The hard part about all this has been just watching my colleagues go through the false allegations and how words have been manipulated and taken out of context by this group,” continued Mannelly, “a lot of people hearing this or reading this might not know the full story.”
According to Bedar, North teachers will keep teaching the subjects that students want to discuss.
“We stand united behind one another in teaching difficult controversial subjects,” Bedar said, “The vast majority of the community doesn’t want us to be avoiding topics that are hard to teach or hard to learn about. In fact, that’s precisely why we should continue teaching them.”
Mannelly added, “I’m very proud to work with my colleagues who I think are phenomenal educators and truly committed to teaching students to be critical thinkers.”