[Marxism] Fieldston, Elite Private School, Faces Backlash From Jewish Parents
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Sat Jan 11 09:31:37 MST 2020
NY Times, Jan. 11, 2020
Fieldston, Elite Private School, Faces Backlash From Jewish Parents
By Eliza Shapiro
Ethical Culture Fieldston, one of New York City’s most proudly
progressive private schools, is facing a backlash over its handling of
race, religion and ethnicity for the second time in less than a year.
In the past few months, some Jewish parents have accused school
administrators of not acting aggressively enough to address what the
parents said were anti-Semitic comments by at least one teacher and a
The tensions boiled over on Thursday, when the school fired a history
teacher who has criticized Israel in school and on a personal Twitter
The dismissal of the teacher, J.B. Brager, which came after an assembly
focused on anti-Semitism and anti-bias training, was first reported by
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The move quickly touched off a protest by
Lauren Coulston, a spokeswoman for the school, declined to discuss the
precise reasons for the firing, saying that Fieldston “does not comment
on personnel matters.”
“We can reaffirm, however, that the school does not tolerate hurtful
offensive or exclusionary content or comments from any member of the
community,” Ms. Coulston said on Friday. “Students, parents, employees,
and other members of our community all face consequences for behavior of
The episode comes at a highly charged moment for the school, and for New
Fieldston spent much of last year trying to contain a rebellion by its
students, some of whom locked themselves in buildings on the school’s
campus in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in March to protest what
they said was a racist school culture.
The school agreed to many of the students’ demands, including anti-bias
training and a commitment to hire more teachers of color.
But the fragile peace that followed was short-lived. The student
protests about perceived racism against people of color soon gave way to
anger among Jewish parents concerned about anti-Semitism.
In November, Kayum Ahmed, a director at the Open Society Foundations
philanthropic organization who had been invited to speak at an assembly
at the high school, responded to a student’s question about South Africa
by linking what Jews endured during the Holocaust to violence against
Palestinians in Israel.
Some parents, offended by the comment, urged school leaders to issue a
forceful statement condemning it. The debate over Mr. Ahmed’s remarks
was reported by the online publication Tablet as well as the Washington
Free Beacon. Mr. Ahmed did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
A few days after the assembly, the head of the school, Jessica Bagby,
and the high school principal, Nigel Furlonge, sent an email to students
and parents calling Mr. Ahmed’s remarks “deeply hurtful.” The school,
Ms. Bagby and Mr. Furlonge wrote, “vehemently opposes anti-Jewish words,
deeds, and sentiment.”
Before the winter break, Fieldston scheduled an assembly focused on
anti-Semitism for Thursday, Jan. 9, and announced that two Reform Jewish
rabbis would speak.
Fieldston was founded in the late 19th century by Felix Adler, a Jewish
educator, and has long served a significant number of Jewish students.
But parents’ concerns that the school has looked the other way on
anti-Semitism have plagued Ms. Bagby throughout her four-year tenure.
The New York Times reported in 2017 that she had referred privately to
“Zionist” parents raising questions about aspects of the school’s
experimental approach to combating racism.
The comment alarmed George Burns, the principal of Fieldston’s lower
school at the time, The Times reported. Mr. Burns’s unexpected departure
that year prompted a torrent of anger from parents, teachers and students.
Fieldston, which has around 1,700 students from prekindergarten through
12th grade and annual tuition of about $53,000, is substantially more
racially diverse than many other private schools in the city, and it
awards more than $14 million a year in financial aid.
The debate at the school is playing out against a backdrop of heightened
tensions among Jewish residents of New York and the surrounding area.
Orthodox Jews have faced a series of violent anti-Semitic attacks across
the city and state in recent weeks, prompting local officials to
increase security in neighborhoods with large Jewish populations.
This week, tens of thousands of people marched against anti-Semitism in
New York City. In an email this month, Ms. Bagby encouraged Fieldston
families to join the march.
Dr. Brager, the teacher who was dismissed, is transgender and uses the
pronouns they and them. Complicating the debate over the comments that
some parents objected to, Dr. Brager is also Jewish.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Dr. Brager’s Twitter
account, which by Friday had been made private, had included posts
critical of the two rabbis asked to speak at Thursday’s assembly.
“Sure go ahead and invite two white men who run Reform congregations,
both of whom are Zionists,” Dr. Brager said in one message. After Mr.
Ahmed’s comments in November, Dr. Brager wrote on Twitter, “I refuse to
‘reaffirm the value’ of ethnonationalist settler colonialism,” according
Two Fieldston parents who spoke to their children about the assembly and
reviewed a brief video clip of the meeting said that Dr. Brager had
raised a middle finger at one of the rabbis before walking out of the
room during the assembly on Thursday.
Dr. Brager did not respond to a request for comment.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League,
said on Friday that the group was “pleased that the Fieldston
administration took this matter seriously and heard the concerns of
students and parents who were justifiably appalled by the faculty
member’s hurtful and offensive tweets.”
But a letter protesting Dr. Brager’s firing and calling on the school to
reinstate them had collected several hundred signatures since Thursday
“We see clearly that Fieldston administrators Jessica Bagby and Nigel
Furlonge are not interested in addressing anti-Semitism or protecting
Jewish community members,” the letter said, “but in signaling to
conservative Jewish donors that the school will punish dissenters from
those donors’ views.”
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