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Newton schools chief rips ‘uncivil behavior’ at forum

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Newton Mayor Setti Warren (left) took a question at the community discussion last Thursday.

Newton's superintendent of schools sent a faculty-wide e-mail on Monday addressing a raucous forum on prejudice in Newton last week that he said "took a very unpleasant turn."

In the missive, David Fleishman said what "was intended to be a community discussion to ensure Newton is a welcoming and inclusive place for all turned into a display of disrespectful and uncivil behavior."

Last Thursday's meeting was called after two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti were discovered at a Newton middle school, but the gathering was not conceived as a forum to discuss only those incidents. However, a group of Jewish activists who thought it should have focused solely on anti-Semitism tried to take over the meeting, at one point heckling an African-American mother.


He also disavowed the actions of those who were "particularly insensitive toward a Newton parent who courageously shared a story of racism faced by her son."

Fleishman, who was booed during the meeting, noted that "some of the vitriol expressed was directed at me" because he rejects "the accusation that our high school history teachers inject anti-Semitic curriculum into their classes."

Despite the meeting's tone, Fleishman wrote that he felt optimistic afterward: "The wonderful display of thoughtfulness, empathy and compassion shown by Newton students and faculty was compelling," he wrote. "Our students openly shared their experiences and spoke passionately about their efforts to address all types of discrimination."

He also implored teachers and faculty members to be mindful of how they are reflected in the school system.

"At each step of the way, our students benefit from your modeling, coaching, caring and compassion," he wrote. "Thursday night reminded us that it takes an entire community to ensure our students emerge from our schools as kind, respectful, and engaged citizens."

Fleishman's email comes after Mayor Setti Warren on Friday praised high school students who spoke out at a community meeting he called "difficult, but essential."


In a letter to the community, Warren said he was proud that Newton "did not shy away from a difficult conversation."

Globe correspondent Ellen Ishkanian contributed to this report.