Amity district leaders release action plan to combat anti-Semitism

Entrance to Amity High School in Woodbridge.

Entrance to Amity High School in Woodbridge.

Amity Regional High School administrators have released details of an action plan to combat anti-Semitism at the school, an issue that was brought to the forefront by students who passionately addressed the Board of Education at a Nov. 12 meeting.

The plan was developed collaboratively with high school administrators and local community leaders, Amity district Superintendent of Schools Jenn Byars said in an email. Students — many of whom spoke at the board meeting — had opportunity to review the plan and offer additional feedback, she said.

Several of the action steps will also be undertaken in the middle school, Byars said in a note.

The plan, introduced to the community by Amity High School principal Anna Mahon, range from intense work with the Anti-Defamation League, to student activities that foster kindness.

The action plan is in response to a Nov. 12 board meeting in which a stream of compelling student speakers told emotional horror stories of finding Swastikas around the school and hearing hate talk in the hallways, such as “We are the Nazis.” Some Jewish students said the climate of anti-Semitic happenings had left such an impact on them, they feared walking to their cars.

Students said at the meeting that they had tried to complain directly to administrators, but weren’t taken seriously enough.

The morning after the meeting, Amity administrators stepped up security inside and outside the high school, called upon the Anti-Defamation League to devise an anti-hate education plan tailored to Amity and made counselors available for students who are scared or upset.

Mahon outlined some details of her plan recently in a memo to the community.

Part of the plan calls for education and programs in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, including its “No Place for Hate” school climate initiative and sending Amity representatives to participate in ADL’s “Strengthening the Bonds of Our Community” program.

The plan also calls for softer initiatives to be carried out in school with students leading, including:

* A “be kind” initiative to support the idea of using kind language and recognizing the power of words.

* Student documentation of their experiences and the school’s journey

* Social justice programs for students

* Student representatives to work with committees to help with communication with the faculty and administration.

* An email or in-person follow-up from administrator after a complaint is made and is being addressed

* Follow up at the December Board of Education meeting specifically regarding anti-Semitic behavior

* ARHS art teacher will partner with AMS-Bethany Climate Committee to do an art installation

* Administrators will work with the ADL to organize a program for high school students to become mentors on citizenship for middle and elementary school students

* ADL will partner with the history and English departments to review Amity’s existing Holocaust education

* ADL programming for “Becoming an Ally” for student training

* Explore opportunities for cultural sensitivity training for faculty

* Restorative justice training for the administration

Former interim Superintendent James Connelly, who was leading the district in the days after the meeting, broadened the anti-hate conversation to include elementary school principals in Orange, Woodbridge and Bethany, saying the schools can’t operate in “silos.”

A community of parents, rabbis and other faith-based leaders joined forces as part of the original initiative.

Amity has a large Jewish student population. While it might come as a surprise that anti-Semitism would be so present in a school with a large Jewish population, Andy Friedland, associate director of the ADL Connecticut office has said it typically is higher in areas where there are more Jews.

Friedland has said anti-Semitism can happen anywhere and the measure of a community is how it responds, rather than that the incidents happen.

Friedland has said the goal is to provide a safe, inclusive environment for students and part of that involves teaching them about the impact of their words.