BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama school system’s “baffling” response to a Jewish student’s complaints that a teacher asked classmates to give a Nazi salute shows a lack of commitment to diversity , an organization that promotes civil and human rights said on Friday.
As Mountain Brooks schools released a statement saying they were ‘deeply sorry for the pain’ caused by a lesson that ‘lacked sensitivity’, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute questioned the actions of the system, which had previously dropped a diversity program produced by an organization that combats anti-Semitism.
“It is in this light that we find a more recent incident involving the Nazi salute displayed by students in a Mountain Brook classroom particularly disconcerting, as it shows a glaring lack of preparation on the part of administrators to discuss, teach and lead. in this area,” the municipal education institute said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the school system, located in an affluent and almost all-white suburb of Birmingham, did not immediately return an email requesting comment.
In a story first reported by Birmingham-based Southern Jewish Life, a Jewish student said he was shocked last month when a history teacher at Mountain Brook High School asked his Classmates stand and greet the Nazis with outstretched arms during a lesson on how symbols change.
The student, Ephraim Tytell, said school officials reprimanded him and told him to apologize to the teacher after he shared video and photos of the incident on social media. The student said he refused.
The lesson aimed to show how the symbols change by demonstrating that something very similar to what is now widely known as the Nazi salute was used before World War II to salute the American flag. Called the “Bellamy Salute”, it was dropped in 1942 for the right hand over heart gesture after the United States entered the war.
On Tuesday, the school system released a statement saying the video and photos shared online “are not representative of the lesson” and that no one tried to teach students how to give a Nazi salute.
With the blowback continuing, the system issued a more conciliatory statement on Thursday, which said in part, “There are more effective ways to teach this subject without recreating painful and emotional responses to the atrocities of history.
“To improve our teaching strategies, we will continue to work with the Alabama Holocaust Education Center to advance our teachers’ training on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and its symbols,” the statement said. The system said it “absolutely and unequivocally” opposes anti-Semitism.
The Jewish Federation of Birmingham said the system’s follow-up statement was a “direct result” of conversations it had with school system leaders. School officials “recognize and fully understand the insensitivity of classroom instruction that day and the lack of a safe space for students to learn,” the Jewish organization said.
William Galloway, a spokesperson for Mountain Brooks Schools, said it was against system policy to say whether the teacher remained in the classroom.
Last year, the Mountain Brook school system responded to community complaints about a diversity program produced by the Anti-Defamation League by cutting classes. Schools had started using the material after anti-Semitic events, including a video of a student with a swastika drawn on his body
Opponents claimed the lessons focused too much on race and gender and criticized the ADL as being too political.