School board warned: No quick fix for anti-Semitism at Amity

Amity High School in Woodbridge

Amity High School in Woodbridge

A month after a stream of Amity High School students and adults shocked the community with stories of anti-Semitism at the school, the administration Monday, Dec. 10, received compliments from the lectern for its handling of the matter, but was warned that, even with an elaborate plan, the problem won’t be solved quickly.

Woodbridge resident Paul Schatz, who spoke powerfully at last month’s meeting about the problem, on Monday praised the board for administrators’ improved communication with parents and students, calling the action plan a “great start,” but warned the board and administrators that better emails and an action aren’t enough.

He said solving the problem is going to “take a while.”

Schatz said he had questions about direct safety measures such as cameras in the hallways, whether teachers are present in hallways when students are changing classrooms and whether there are cameras and patrols in parking lots. Board Chairman Christopher Browe told Schatz he could have his questions answered later by administrators.

Students, previously having expressed they felt unsafe at Amity, packed the small meeting room in November and told the board during public comment they were “horrified and terrified” by the sight of swastikas on a bathroom stall and desk, as well as hate talk from certain groups in the hallway saying, “We are the Nazis” and “the Jews deserve to die.”

High School Principal Anna Mahon went into quick action the next day, embracing student concerns in an email, calling in the Anti-Defamation League and providing counselors.

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

Browe said Monday after Mahon talked about the action plan — which will be used at the middle school level, as well — that he appreciates the plan takes a “holistic approach” rather than just focusing on hate of one or limited groups.

Mahon said the administration is “really focused on rebuilding that trust with the community.” She said she hasn’t stopped exploring programming and plans on also training Amity High School students to be mentors for younger middle school students. She said students were among those who had input into the plan.

Student Adam Ginsberg took the podium Monday night and said he was “proud to see we’ve seen progress made against hate,” but the problem at Amity is a “small piece of a larger problem.”

Ginsberg said students must stay active in the cause and not be afraid to speak up.

The earlier revelations from students, many of them emotional, left people wondering, “How could this happen in a wealthy, educated community with a high Jewish population?”

The answer, simply put, experts say, is that hate knows no socioeconomic boundaries and happens in every community — rich, poor, white, black.

“None of these (wealth, education) are protection from the outside world,” Andy Friedland ADL Connecticut office associate director, has said. “A high percentage of hate comes from ignorance, but a person could have all the education in the world and there could be something different affecting them.”

He said anti-Semitism is found more often in communities with a high Jewish population.