ITHACA, N.Y. — The Ithaca City School District superintendent released a statement Friday afternoon apologizing for anti-Israeli comments and calls to action made to third graders during a presentation about human rights last Friday.

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Superintendent Luvelle Brown said in a new release, “We recognize that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is very sensitive to many members of our community. We also recognize that this delicate topic was not presented in a manner consistent with its importance. We sincerely regret that this has occurred.”

Brown verified in a brief interview that Bassem Tamimi — a pro-Palestinian activist — spoke to third graders at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School last Friday afternoon.

Brown said a teacher invited Ariel Gold — also a pro-Palestinian activist who has spoken at the school in the past — to speak at the school about human rights as part of the third grade New York State social studies curriculum on human rights.

Photo Courtesy of Bassem Tamimi’s Facebook)
Photo Courtesy of Bassem Tamimi’s Facebook)

He said administrators did not know that Tamimi, who was not invited to speak, was at the school.

Brown said he is not sure how many students heard the presentation.

“There is an ongoing personnel investigation,” he said, about the incident.

Brown sent out the following news release about the incident:

The New York State Social Studies Standards for third grade includes the topic of human rights.  On Friday, September 18th, two speakers were invited to present on human rights and peace to the third grade at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School. Upon further investigation, we have learned that the speakers went beyond the original intent of the talk. Also, school administration was not informed beforehand of the presence of additional speakers.

The following statements are some of the most egregious examples from the presentation:

  • At the beginning of the session, the speakers showed a brief video of a young Palestinian girl who references Israelis killing Palestinians;
  • There was an indication by the speakers that Israel has broken many United Nations’ laws and that Israel controls all of the resources of the geographic area;
  • In a closing statement of how students could help, a speaker spoke of solidarity and being freedom fighters for Palestine; to bring peace and protect the future of their children.

Such statements are not developmentally appropriate for third graders, nor aligned with the New York State standards. The statements were politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.

At a minimum, we are taking immediate action in the following areas:

  • We will review policies and procedures for guest speakers and visitors to our schools.
  • The teaching of human rights is a complex task that is required by NYS standards. We are undertaking a thorough review of how we teach this important subject.

We recognize that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is very sensitive to many members of our community.  We also recognize that this delicate topic was not presented in a manner consistent with its importance. We sincerely regret that this has occurred.

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.