WASHINGTON – Following an antisemitic incident at Watkins Elementary School, Washington Jewish leaders met on Tuesday with DC education officials. Members from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee participated in the meeting. Among the Washington Officials were DC Public Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee and Rev. Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs Director Thomas Bowen. Ferebee was joined by several members of DCPS’s equity and elementary school management teams.
“Our productive meeting included an open discussion of the significant pain, fear and outrage this antisemitic episode has triggered in our Jewish community and beyond. Ferebee and his colleagues reiterated their sadness at what transpired, apologized on behalf of DCPS, and detailed the extensive resources, including mental health services that they are deploying for all impacted stakeholders, which includes students and parents in the Watkins ES community,” the statement reads. “They emphasized that they are conducting a thorough and swift investigation into the librarian’s conduct and will also review their internal employee screening procedures.”
Earlier this week, it was reported that students at a Watkins Elementary School were instructed by a staff member to reenact scenes from the Holocaust. When the third-grade students asked why the Germans killed Jews, the staff member said it was “Because the Jews ruined Christmas,” The Washington Post reported.
The students were supposed to be working on projects in the library on Friday when the staff member told the students to reenact scenes from the Holocaust.
The woman reportedly told one Jewish student to play the role of Adolf Hitler and pretend to commit suicide. Another student was told to pretend that he was on a train to a concentration camp and then act as if he were dying in a gas chamber.
“There is no doubt that in the last three years we have seen an uptick in antisemitism in American life,” JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber told The Jerusalem Post. “We see that manifesting itself in words beset by elected officials. We see that in the misuse of Holocaust imagery and we see it in public schools with an increase in graffiti or antisemitic remarks. So, we’re dealing with this. This is not a new thing.
“But this incident was really something horrific,” Halber continued. “I hope it’s [an isolated incident]. I don’t think we’ve seen anything as [disturbing]. That was more disturbing than just about anything else I had dealt with.”
He said the JCRC “immediately went ahead and arranged to have a meeting with the school chancellor and their equity staff. And they were totally apologetic, understanding, and by the way, they were sickened.”
JCRC said in a statement, “We greatly appreciate Dr. Ferebee’s acknowledgment of the gravity of this situation and his sincere commitment to remedying the harm done – in both the short and long term. DCPS families must be able to trust their school system to protect their children’s well-being and to provide nurturing environments where students can learn and grow.
“Our three Jewish agencies are committed to working with DCPS professionals in the days and weeks ahead to support the Watkins ES community and all school district students, families, and employees,” the statement reads. “We are providing age-appropriate educational resources, advising equity and curriculum staff, and counseling parents who are concerned about the impact this inappropriate episode has and will continue to have on their children.”
JTA contributed to this report.