By FAYGIE HOLT (JNS) Officials with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are once again investigating incidents of Jew-hate on one of their campuses after graffiti was found at a middle school where students performed a “Hitler salute” in front of classmates and a Jewish teacher.
“This is very upsetting and unacceptable,” said George Bartzis, principal of Valley Park Middle School, in a letter to parents. “We take great pride in our school as a welcoming, safe, and inclusive place and this has always been our message to students. It is also not reflective of who we are and what we stand for as a school and as a community.”
Officials with Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) have spoken with the teacher involved and said in a press release that she remains “traumatized” by the incident. According to the teacher, a student in her 8th-grade class shouted “Heil Hitler” from his desk as two other students stood on a filing cabinet and performed a Nazi salute.
“This wave of anti-Semitism 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,” Michael Levitt, FSWC president and CEO, said in a statement. “Anti-Semitism has reached epidemic proportions at TDSB, and it is time for the Board to recognize this as the crisis that it is.”
He added, “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.”
In a tweet, Toronto Mayor John Tory also urged the school district to take action, saying the incident is “as sad as it is hurtful and obviously unacceptable. It is extremely troubling to see anti-Semitic acts, especially among young people, happening in our community.”
Valley Park Middle School is located across the street from Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, a Toronto high school where, last November, students staged a walkout during which they held signs and chanted “Free Palestine” as well as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
According to B’nai Brith Canada, neither school has a large Jewish population and that
“while we are not aware of any direct link between these two incidents at this time, it certainly warrants further investigation.”
This latest incident comes just a few weeks after students at another TDSB school, Charles H. Best Middle School, also “performed” a Nazi salute for classmates.
Responding to what she said is a “horrific situation not only at Valley Park, but throughout our system,” Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education at the TDSB, stated in a press release, “We strive for our schools to be safe, welcoming and inclusive, however, as incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and hate have risen sharply in our country and city, sadly, there are also incidents connected to our schools.
“Our data shows that of all reported racism, bias and hate incidents in the TDSB, 91 percent were committed by students and that is why our focus will remain on student learning. This is an urgent situation and we must interrupt and confront racism, discrimination and hate, in all of its forms, when we see or hear it. It is my commitment that we focus on eradicating it at both the systemic and local school levels and that we will move toward more proactively educating about the roots of racism and hate.”
In a statement, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Leece said the rise in anti-Semitic incidents at Toronto schools “demands a strong response from the board to counter Jew hate. While the work continues, the province recently expanded resources and curriculum materials to bolster Holocaust education in the classroom, along with ongoing effort to combat anti-Semitism wherever it takes hold.”
Learning more about the Holocaust is exactly what students at Valley Park are expected to do in early March when they participate in a presentation by the group Carrying Holocaust Testimony, according to Valley Park’s principal, Bartzis.
“During this presentation, students will continue to learn the history and lessons of the Holocaust through meaningful, first-hand testimonials from survivors and their descendants,” he wrote to parents at the school.
“As a school, Valley Park is committed to providing students with critical thinking skills that enable them to understand complex issues from many different perspectives,” Bartiz wrote. “This is particularly true when issues intersect with different identities and lived experiences. It is important that we continuously reinforce our commitment to equity, inclusion and respect for all.”