Parents, We Need Your Help!

February 17, 2023

Dear MCPS Community,

Far too many families and communities across MCPS have come home over the past several weeks to letters from their school condemning acts of antisemitism. A concerning number of students have drawn Nazi symbols on desks, verbally assaulted Jewish peers, spoken anti-Jewish tropes, and glorified Naziism via pictures broadcasted on social media. These acts have left me – and so many of you – feeling angry, dismayed, and horrified.   

Halfway through my 21st year working in MCPS, I have seen waves of hate strike our system. They do not, and have not ever, represented who we are. I know that we are so much better than this. And as with so many of the challenges we face, I also know that our community can and will rise up and collectively act upon our core values: learning, relationships, respect, excellence, and equity.  

Our schools and staff are committed to being a safe and nurturing home to every student—every day. But we cannot achieve that goal alone.  I need you – our parents, guardians, caregivers, and community leaders – to join me in saying NO MORE,  to remind one another that the ties that unite us are much stronger than the forces that divide us.

In a message the Board of Education president and I shared on Jan. 21, after a series of antisemitic incidents, we wrote, “As we fight these repeated acts of hate, we must challenge one another to learn and understand what antisemitism, hatred, and racism are and the harm they cause.” That challenge inspired real action. But so long as this ugly problem persists, we must do more. 

What MCPS is doing

Leaders in schools and offices across the district have come together to do what we do best: educate. MCPS educators took up the challenge and partnered with advocates and experts in the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), among others, to deepen awareness of antisemitism, increase age-appropriate curriculum teaching about the Holocaust, restore community in the aftermath of antisemitic acts, and listen to family concerns. 

When an act of antisemitic hate-bias occurs, we administer serious and appropriate discipline in accordance with the student code of conduct. But we will not punish our way out of the spike we face. Whenever possible, we must turn to education – because when our students know better, they do better. 

Let’s be clear, demonstrations of hate – antisemitism – have victims.

Written symbols, gestures, and performative imitations invoking the Nazi regime and its leader Adolf Hitler are painful, frightening, and traumatic for Jewish people. They directly reference the systematic, genocidal mass murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, which occurred less than 100 years ago. Many Jewish MCPS students have personal, familial connections to the Holocaust, both through grandparents or other relatives who survived and those who perished. The horrors of the Nazi death camps were preceded by the proliferation and normalization of blunt antisemitic images, gestures, and words -- the same images, words and gestures being casually mimicked by students today. This behavior results in Jewish students and many others feeling unsafe and threatened in their own schools and communities.

Our children must not be victims.

To learn and achieve at high levels, all students must feel physically and emotionally safe. Anxiety or pain caused by acts of hatred holds students back from bringing their best to the classroom. ALL of our children, at ALL times, must BE safe. No person should feel invalidated by the actions of another, intentionally or unintentionally. 

What you can do at home

It’s easy. As the trusted and loved adults in our children’s lives, join us in educating our children. Take time to remind our students that:

  • Hate is wrong
  • Hate has victims
  • Hate divides us, and
  • Hate has consequences in civil society

Instruct your children that prejudice, discrimination, and marginalization in the form of hateful words, and symbols, have no place in school, at home, or in the community. The antidote to such hate comes from the power of friendship, love, and respect.

As parental figures, you aren’t in this alone. Many resources, like those at the bottom of this message, can help you with these difficult discussions.

Let’s challenge each other to do better.

As a community, we must speak loudly, clearly and together against antisemitism and all acts of hate and racism. Whatever your race, background, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion, when we are inclusive and welcoming, when we embrace our differences rather than let them tear us apart, we move our community one step closer to reaching our full potential.  I believe we can and will reach that potential – but if we are to do so, there is no room for hate. Let us stand in solidarity to condemn antisemitism, hate, and racism. Let us do this together.

In partnership,

Dr. Monifa B. McKnight
Superintendent of Schools 

Resources to support discussion at home:

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Montgomery County Public Schools