February 10, 2016
Dear Community Members,
On February 8, the Jewish Federation of Rockland County met with Nyack Public Schools Superintendent James J. Montesano and his administrators and teaching staff regarding videos that misrepresented the nature of Judaism, which were made available to sixth-grade students at Nyack Middle School. Also participating in the meeting were Rabbi Ariel Russo of Congregation Sons of Israel Nyack, Rabbi Reuben Modek of Hebrew Learning Circles and senior representatives from the Anti-Defamation League.
The goal of the meeting was to openly discuss the situation to insure that these types of biased materials would not be available to students and to identify opportunities to strengthen the district’s learning environment by vetting supporting materials. We also communicated Federation’s willingness to be an ongoing resource in these matters.
Our meeting focused on two biased and historically-inaccurate videos that were made accessible to the sixth-grade students in December, 2015. The videos were produced by Study.com which is the same vendor that produced the anti-Semitic video shown to ninth-grade students in Clarkstown South High School Social Studies classes last month.
As soon as the Nyack Middle School teachers were made aware that the videos failed to provide a non-biased perspective of Judaism, they removed the videos from the sixth-grade Social Studies class page. The district dissolved its relationship with Study.com and Superintendent Montesano sent a letter of apology to the Nyack school community on February 9. Additionally, Nyack Middle School Principal David Johnson and his staff are personally addressing any misconceptions from the video with the students and parents who viewed the video.
After a productive meeting, our leadership came away with the understanding that the Nyack school district will use Federation resources for future staff development, learning opportunities and curriculum review. The Nyack Public Schools have a strong track record of promoting diversity and inclusiveness, evidenced by the district’s ongoing educational visits to the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education.
Furthermore, Federation’s Community Relations Council has reached out to six other Rockland County school district superintendents to offer our services and those of the Center for Tolerance and Education, as resources for teaching Jewish history, inter-group relations and the broader issue of social tolerance in society.
Our continued response to these educational bias incidents highlights two core roles of Federation: We convene the community to take collective action around critical issues and we combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.
Please 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