[Marxism] Fieldston, Elite Private School, Faces Backlash From Jewish Parents

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
guest speaker.

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 
Fieldston graduates.

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 
this nature.”

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 
to Tablet.

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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