Alabama’s school system responded in a “disconcerting” manner to complaints by a Jewish student about a teacher performing a Nazi salute on classmates. This is a sign of a lack commitment to diversity. The organization promotes civil rights and human rights.
Mountain Brooks Schools released a statement apologizing for the “deeply painful” consequences of a lesson that had “lacked sensitivity.” The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute challenged the system’s actions, having previously abandoned a diversity program created by an organization that fights antisemitism.
“It is in that light that we find the recent incident involving students performing the Nazi salute in a Mountain Brook school classroom especially disconcerting. It shows a conspicuous failure on the part of administrators discuss, teach, and lead in the area,” the statement from the city-owned educational institution said.
The school system’s spokesperson, who is located in a wealthy, almost all-white suburb of Birmingham, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
A Birmingham-based Southern Jewish Life reported that a Jewish student was shocked when Mountain Brook High School’s history teacher made his classmates give a stiff-armed Nazi salute as part of a lesson about how symbols change.
Ephraim Tytell, , a student, told CBS affiliate WIAT TV that the class was studying the meaning of the Nazi salute before it became hateful.
Ephraim explained to CBS 42 that the teacher had explained to us that America used to do this before WWII and all that. Then he asked us to salute the flag, and then he did it with everyone else,” Ephraim said. “I felt upset and unsure about what was going on. “Just a little shocked.”
Tytell claimed that school officials reprimanded and asked him to apologize to his teacher after he posted a video and pictures of the incident on social networking.
He told WIAT that they made Mountain Brook look bad by telling me I uploaded the video and shared it. They also asked me to apologize for not doing so and I refused. He told WIAT that the day after he had made our class and our only class put up their phones, he moved me from the back to the front of the class.
This lesson was intended to demonstrate how symbols can change. It demonstrated that something very similar, now known as the Nazi salute, was used to salute America’s flag before World War II. Called the “Bellamy Salute,” it was ditched in 1942 for the right-hand-over-the-heart gesture following the United States’ entry into the war.
Tuesday’s school system statement stated that the video and online photos “are not representative” of the lesson and that no one attempted to teach students how the Nazi salute.
The system responded to the backlash by issuing a more conciliatory statement Thursday that stated in part: “There’s better ways to teach this subject than re-creating painful, emotional reactions to historical atrocities.”
The statement stated that “To improve our instructional techniques, we will continue working with the Alabama Holocaust Education Center in order to advance training for teachers surrounding Antisemitism and the Holocaust and its symbols.” It stated that it stood “absolutely, unambiguously” against antisemitism.
According to the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the system’s subsequent statement was the result of discussions it had with school leaders. According to the Jewish organization, school officials “fully acknowledge and understand the insensitivity of the instruction that was given in the classroom that day” and the lack of safe learning spaces for students.
Mountain Brooks Schools spokesperson William Galloway said that it was against the system’s policy to comment on whether the teacher left the classroom.
Mountain Brook’s school system dropped the lessons last year after community protests about the diversity program created by the Anti-Defamation League. After antisemitic events, schools had started using the material. One example was a video showing a student wearing a swastika on his body.
Opponents claimed that the lessons were too focused on race and gender, and they criticised the ADL for being too political.