February 2, 2016
Dear Community Members,
Approximately ten days ago, the Jewish Federation and other Jewish community leaders began hearing about a disturbing video shown to three Clarkstown High School South Social Studies classes. Although the video – comparing the first-century CE Roman world's perception of the Jewish and Christian faiths and communities – came from a district-approved educational resource, it was historically inaccurate and misrepresented the nature of Judaism. Many students were troubled about what had been presented and shared their feelings with their parents, who reached out to Federation and community rabbis.
Federation’s Community Relations Council (CRC) took the lead in addressing this issue with Dr. J. Thomas Morton, CCSD Superintendent of Schools. In response, the district took these steps last week:
- School officials spoke with the teacher and counseled her on the video’s inappropriate content.
- A directive was issued to district faculty not to use videos from the vendor.
- The teacher, with the principal present, explained to the classes why the video was incorrect and misleading and apologized for offending students.
- The principal and the teacher sent letters of apology to students and parents.
- The district contacted the content provider and requested removal of the video. After review, the vendor removed it from their website and YouTube channel.
On February 1, Federation’s President Andrea Weinberger, Community Relations Council Chair Steve Gold and CEO Gary Siepser, along with Rockland Board of Rabbis’ members Rabbi Brian Leiken and Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg and Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education Executive Director Andrea Winograd met with a group from CCSD which included Dr. Morton, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Jeffrey Sobel, Principal of Clarkstown High School South Debra Tarantino, Social Studies teacher Stephanie Costa and Teacher Association President Jon Wedvik.
Our goal in meeting was to insure that this type of incident would not happen again. Additionally, we sought confirmation that students and parents could feel comfortable and know they would be taken seriously when speaking to educators about troubling, offensive or inappropriate school events. Finally, we wanted the CCSD staff to understand Federation’s willingness to be a resource in these matters.
After a very productive meeting, we felt that Dr. Morton and the other CCSD representatives understood the depth of our concern. Our leadership came away with a positive feeling and we believe that under Dr. Morton’s guidance, the district will move in the right direction.
Furthermore, the school district agreed to consult with the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education as it develops curriculum addressing inter-group relations and appreciation for differences. Federation went on record offering resources for teaching Jewish history, Judaism and related topics.
Our response to this incident highlights two core roles of Federation: We convene the community to take collective action around critical issues and we engage in the fight against anti-Semitism and intolerance. Please know that the Jewish Federation will continue to advocate on your and the community’s behalf.
Do not hesitate to contact us with your concerns, questions or comments.
Steve Gold, Chair, Jewish Federation of Rockland County Community Relations Council
Andrea Weinberger, President, Jewish Federation of Rockland County
Gary Siepser, Chief Executive Officer, Jewish Federation of Rockland County