Amity High School principal speaks out on anti-Semitism reports in Woodbridge

WOODBRIDGE -- The Woodbridge community has come forward to express concerns after reports of anti-Semitism within the town and Amity High School.

The school district has responded as well as police and federal law enforcement.

The problem has been so concerning that there was a Board of Education meeting about it Monday night. To ensure everyone's safety, the principal has stepped up patrols inside and outside of the school.

"It's not very comforting to know that I have to go to bed tonight and get up and I have to be afraid of my religion and that their other kids that have to be afraid of that religion," said Cecilia Livingston, a student at the high school.

Talya Braverman said she joined the Anti-Defamation League to help confront discrimination against her peers, but said she has experienced some of the worst herself.

"I’ve had change thrown at me at a restaurant with a group of people. I’ve listened to holocaust jokes and Jew jokes," said Braverman, a junior at the high school.

Despite her fears, Braverman said she commends the administrators for taking immediate action on this serious matter.

Judy Alperin with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven was among those at the meeting. She said it hurt her to hear students talk about being scared to wear a Star of David necklace or any clothing that would identify their religion.

"Even with tears streaming down my face, I was so incredibly proud last night. I was proud of our teams were so eloquent in the way they express how they truly felt," said Alperin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Haven.

Principal Anna Mahon sent a letter to students and families and urged them students to meet with administrators to talk about their fears.

Dear High School Community,

I was deeply moved by the public comment session during tonight’s Board of Education Meeting. There is no place for hate, intolerance or lack of safety for any student or member of our school community. The immediate plan to address the concerns raised at the Board of Education is to continue the conversation with students. To that end, we will be holding meetings throughout the day, and the rest of the week, with students. Students are asked to sign up to meet with members of the administration and counseling to address the anti-Semitic sentiments along with other intolerant behaviors students have witnessed at the high school. Sign-up sheets will be in the counseling department and will be available starting at 7:15am. If students would prefer to meet one-on-one with an administrator or counselor, that is always an option. We will also have an increased police presence in the school parking lot as well as an increased adult presence in the hallways during passing time with faculty and staff. If your child feels unsafe, please let him/her know to report directly to the counseling department for support. I will be in touch first thing with the Anti-Defamation League to invite them to be a part of the student discussion groups to hear the concerns.

The short-term plan—to be addressed throughout the school year—will be to work closely with local clergy, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and other community organizations to specifically address anti-Semitic and other intolerant behavior. We are also training staff in restorative practices at all three schools.

The long-term plan is to draft a 2-5 year action plan so as to ensure that these issues will continue to be an integral part of the curriculum at Amity Regional High School. We are committed to working together to make Amity a safe and supportive environment today, tomorrow and throughout the future.

Sincerely,

Anna Mahon
Principal

Interim Superintendent James Connelly told FOXF61 there are rumors of where the hate started.

"There’s some rumors about members at the football team and my understanding is you know they are being dealt with in a confidential way," said Connelly.

Connelly said the issue is being handled by the area clergy, elected officials and the Anti-Defamation League which has been the leading voice in the matter.

The Amity Board of Education and the Amity School District were shocked and saddened by the fears and concerns reported by the students and community members about the anti-Semitic behaviors they have experienced in both school and the community. The students feel unsafe because of these hurtful acts against them and their community.

The Amity School District will not tolerate this type of harassment and will investigate and take disciplinary action against students who demonstrate unacceptable behavior. We will also cooperate with the local police department in some of these investigations.

The district will take a leadership role in partnering with the community, including religious leaders, elected officials, advocacy groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, state and federal officials, youth groups and other people of good will in a comprehensive effort to address this issue in our school and community.

The most critical members of this partnership are the students, families, and staff of our schools. We sincerely welcome their involvement. Our goal is to make the Amity Schools and community the inclusive, tolerant, and safe community we all demand it should become again.

"Getting a chance to hear someone’s personal story takes it from the abstract and brings it to life and make people understand why this can be painful," said Michele Pincince, education director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Principal Mahon said there will be more meetings with students throughout the rest of the week. Woodbridge police said they are also working with the school district as well as state and federal law enforcement to investigate acts of vandalism.
 
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