The superintendent of the Newton public schools Monday denounced claims of anti-Israel bias in the district's history curriculum as baseless, saying recent online criticism by conservative commentators had become “increasingly and unjustly personal.”
In a letter to the school community, David Fleishman said the Newton schools have been the target of outside groups for seven years. Their claims are “misleading and only serve to denigrate the hard work and professionalism of our skilled and dedicated faculty,” he said.
Fleishman said an article published last month in The Federalist, a right-wing online magazine, accused two Newton history teachers — by name — of harboring political bias against President Trump and Israel.
“Our history teachers have been singled out, harassed and subjected to harsh and unfair criticism in the media and online. As a result, there is growing concern among our faculty about teaching controversial topics,” he said. “Should these attacks continue, we worry it will jeopardize our ability to expose students to diverse opinions and to teach them about controversial issues that require open minds and critical thought.”
On Sunday, the Newton Teachers Association posted a letter titled “In Defense of Critical Thinking,” that took to task Ilya Feoktistov, who wrote the article in The Federalist. Feoktistov is the director of “Americans for Peace and Tolerance.” The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Community Relations Council characterize APT and its founder, Charles Jacobs, as “purveyors of hatred and division,” according to the union.
The Federalist article asserted that history teachers at Newton North High School were “indoctrinating our students and squelching free speech,” according to the letter posted on the teachers union’s website.
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Newton history teachers or the school district: APT has targeted Newton many times in the past,” the union’s letter stated.
In an interview with the Globe Monday, Fleishman said these groups and individuals crossed a line when they criticized specific teachers.
“Right now, we’re at a really tough time in our own history, and it’s really hard to be a history teacher, or any kind of teacher,” Fleishman said. “The last thing we want is for our teachers to shy away from teaching controversial topics, because then everybody loses.”