Metro

Newton mayor defends teachers from charges of anti-Semitism over school curriculum

Newton public school teachers protested during a public meeting last week.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Newton public school teachers protested during a public meeting last week.

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller on Tuesday forcefully defended history teachers in her city’s school district from charges of anti-Semitism, saying she “categorically” rejects allegations that instructors are pushing a bigoted curriculum.

Fuller’s remarks came in a written statement one week after hundreds of teachers packed a School Committee hearing to support colleagues and the curriculum. The hearing had been called to consider a petition to overhaul the curriculum and oust Superintendent David Fleishman. The panel rejected most of the proposals, including the request to remove Fleishman.

Fuller said Tuesday that she agrees with concerns raised during the meeting “that anti-Semitism, as well as bigotry, hate and intolerance against Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, black and brown, and LGBTQ people has become more pronounced in the past few years. However, I categorically reject the allegation that Newton Public Schools’ curriculum is anti-Semitic or that there is an anti-Semitic bias inherent in our schools.”

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The mayor continued, “I support our Newton Public Schools teachers. I am particularly disturbed by the targeting of individual teachers and am deeply concerned about the effect these attacks on individual teachers have on the way class discussions are [led] and emails are written. Moving forward, I will continue to support our educators to combat bias in all its forms.”

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The curriculum dispute goes back to 2011 and has been marked by a series of actions by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Watertown nonprofit, which has placed ads accusing the Newton school district of using materials that “demonize Israel” and glorify Islam.

And in 2013 a Newton parent complained to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about the high school history curriculum. The parent alleged the curriculum violated the separation of church and state by spending an “inordinate” amount of time on Islam, and at too high a level of detail.

It also alleged that class materials contained anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, racist, and false information, and pointed specifically to passages from “A Muslim Primer,” “The Arab World Studies Notebook,” and a website called Flashpoints.

A review by state education officials concluded there was no evidence of bias.

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After the School Committee hearing last week, Fleishman sent a note to staff praising the dedication of the city’s public school teachers.

“What I saw last night [at the committee hearing] was an overwhelming support for the work that each of you do every day and for the values that we cherish as a system,” Fleishman wrote. “In addition to a wonderful turnout from our teachers and administrators, we heard from Newton residents of all ages speak about the NPS that they know — where students learn to separate fact from opinion, discern different points of view, challenge their own thinking and that of their peers, and develop evidence based opinions through study and the testing of their ideas.”

Laura Crimaldi of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.