Last Friday, the Palo Alto Unified School Board unanimously passed resolutions condemning the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel and denouncing antisemitism, Islamophobia and Anti-Middle Eastern North Africa hate.
The vote of 4-0, with board member Todd Collins absent, followed the Oct. 24 meeting, during which around 20 community members voiced their disappointment at the board’s delay in condemning hate.
“All I see are vague messages, confused teachers and an overwhelming amount of antisemitism on social media,” Gunn High School senior Annabel Honigstein said at Tuesday’s meeting. “How are Jewish students like me supposed to go to school knowing that our school refuses to condemn antisemitism? The hatred of Jews is not political.”
At Friday’s special board meeting, over 20 community members spoke again in support of passing the resolutions.
“You’re three weeks too late on this. Why is your bureaucracy limiting something so fundamentally simple?” said Palo Alto High School senior Ori Cohen to the board during public comment. “Since [the board meeting on Oct. 24], I’ve been targeted personally on school campus.”
CEO and president of the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center Zack Bodner echoed Cohen’s statements, noting that individuals in the JCC community have been personally impacted by the attack.
“We have a handful of brave kids here right now … but most of our kids are not feeling safe on our campuses,” Bodner said at the meeting. “I know one woman, an Israeli woman, who’s having her daughter wear a cross because she’s scared.”
He emphasized that the difference between 1930s Germany and present-day is leadership, and how government bodies choose to respond to antisemitism.
For PAUSD, the goal is to provide an equitable school district where students don’t need to hide who they are, Board President Jennifer DiBrienza said. She told attendees that the resolutions are only “the beginning of the work, not the end of the work.”
“I hope that us clearly condemning antisemitism and all forms of hate will start to help our students and our community members and our staff feel better, feel safer, know that we care about this,” DiBrienza said. “But I don’t think anyone in this room will think that us voting ‘yes’ today will make everything OK. It’s clearly not.”
Board member Jesse Ladomirak expressed concerns that becoming involved in geopolitics may have repercussions in the future. Last year, for instance, PAUSD didn’t pass resolutions in response to the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.
“With these resolutions, we are opening ourselves up, I believe, to legitimate criticism in the future that we pick and choose which people to care about and whose lives to value,” Ladomirak said.
Regardless, she cited two main reasons for supporting the resolutions: the necessity of condemning hatred as well as supporting community members.
“The Holocaust happened in large part because leaders across the world stayed silent and let it happen, so now … I understand the urgency for many Jewish families and students that every leader of every organization everywhere jump up and down and scream ‘No, we are not going to let that happen again,” Ladomirak said. “Any equivocation, any hesitation, is not sufficient.”
Resolution No. 2023-24.06 cites a 400% increase in antisemitic attacks and threats against Jews across the country, and expresses the strong denunciation of antisemitism and all forms of discrimination.
Resolution No. 2023-24.07 states that PAUSD mourns the thousands of Palestinian children and innocent civilian deaths and strongly condemns all terrorist attacks. It also resolves that PAUSD recognizes the month of April as Arab American Heritage Month and the month of May as National Jewish American Heritage Month.
“This is hard,” board member Shana Segal said at the beginning of the meeting. “We are committed to the education and well-being of our students. That is our primary purpose, and we share the belief that it is education that leads to positive and constructive change.”