A North York middle school has notified parents about two recent antisemitic incidents, including one in which students performed a Nazi salute in front of classmates.
The incidents took place at Charles H. Best Middle School, which is located near Dufferin Street and Finch Avenue.
TDSB spokesperson Sherry Schwartz-Maltz said that in the most recent incident a group of students constructed a swastika out of construction paper, without realizing the full significance of the symbol.
Prior to that, Schwartz-Maltz said, there was another incident about a week ago in which a small group of students performed the Nazi salute in front of a Jewish student.
“These are very, very disturbing incidents and as soon as we found out about it the principal began an investigation but I have to say that it is not the first time that we are seeing swastika graffiti or embracing Nazi ideology at our schools,” Schwartz-Maltz, who also chairs the TDSB’s Jewish Heritage Committee, said. “When kids see things like Nazi flags unfurled at protests unfortunately it begins to normalize and without education they don’t know better and we need to teach them.”
Schwartz-Maltz said that there will be “consequences” for the students involved in the alleged antisemitic incidents, however she said that “consequences only do so much.”
To that end, she said that the school is working with local community partners to provide all students with a Holocaust education program next week, in which they will hear directly from the descendant of a Holocaust survivor about the meaning behind the swastika.
“These are symbols that they are seeing, they are seeing them on social media, they are seeing them on gaming sites, they are seeing them on the news and it becomes normalized,” she said. “That is why it is so very important for us to teach kids what these symbols mean because the swastika is an antisemitic symbol, it is a horrific symbol but mostly it is a universal symbol of hate.”
Parents notified in letter
Parents at Charles H. Best Middle School were notified about the antisemitic incidents in a letter that was sent out on Monday.
In it, the principal of the school called the incidents “unacceptable” but stressed that they “are not reflective of who we are and what we stand for as a school community.”
Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed sadness at the latest incidents, pointing out that they occurred in the Bathurst Manor neighbourhood where a large number of Jewish people, including many Holocaust survivors, live.
“It is extremely disturbing to once again learn of antisemitism rearing its ugly head at a school in Toronto,” the statement reads. “At a time of rising antisemitism, it’s essential for schools to have the resources to address and prevent such hate incidents and ensure safe spaces for all students. As we see Holocaust awareness diminish, an increase in the use of vile Nazi symbols and the spread of antisemitic rhetoric, especially on social media and gaming platforms, educating students and empowering them to stand up against hate is more critical than ever.”
Mayor John Tory also released a statement regarding the situation at Charles H. Best Middle School on Tuesday afternoon, noting that the incidents demonstrate “how much work we still have in front of us to inform and to educate as part of our effort to eradicate antisemitism in all of its forms.”