Juniper Russo posted to Facebook that she withdrew her eighth-grader from the class after the teacher wrote an English translation of the Hebrew name for God on the whiteboard and told students, “If you want to know how to torture a Jew, make them say this out loud,” according to the post.
“This name is traditionally not spoken out loud, and is traditionally only written in the Torah,” Russo wrote. “My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher instruct her peers on ‘how to torture a Jew’ and told me when she came home from school that she didn’t feel safe in the class.”
Hamilton County Schools issued a statement saying the district is investigating the complaint about its Bible History course and will “take appropriate steps based on the findings of that review.”
Russo said she has also reported the incident to the Anti-Defamation League.
Russo wrote on Facebook that her daughter enrolled in the Bible class because other electives were not accessible to her due to a disability.
Her daughter was uncomfortable answering questions on assignments such as, “Do you read the Bible at home?” because she did not want to be singled out as Jewish, Russo wrote.
Russo said that in addition to the antisemitic comments, the teacher taught the Genesis creation story as a factual story of how the universe was formed.
The teacher also told the class a story about an atheist student who supposedly “took the class to ‘prove it wrong’ and later ended up ‘realizing it was true,’” Russo wrote.
Zero tolerance for bullying?
The class is part of a century-old ‘Bible in the Schools’ program that is currently being taught in 29 Hamilton County public schools, according to the organization’s website.
It says the classes are “non-sectarian,” and teachers are “required to teach from a viewpoint-neutral perspective and adhere to a court-approved curriculum.”
The nonprofit reimburses the school district for operating the program. For the 2020-21 academic year, the program gave the school system $1.8 million. Cathy Scott, president of Bible in the Schools, directed all questions to Hamilton County Schools.
Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, issued a statement saying they look forward to a dialog with the Bible in the Schools organization.
“Additionally, we hope they use this as an opportunity to reflect on and assess both their curriculum and how their teachers are presenting the material to ensure these classes are education, not indoctrination,” the statement says.
Russo said the school took her concerns seriously, but the Bible teacher refused to meet with her or the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga to discuss the curriculum.
“How can we say that our schools have zero tolerance for bullying if a teacher is actually instructing students on how to do it?” Russo wrote.