The mother of a Jewish Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student tried for weeks to get the CPS to address the anti-Semitic bullying being perpetrated against her eighth grader, but little was done until the parent contacted local media. The bullying got so bad that kids had joined an online game with a team called the “Jew Incinerators.”
On May 23, Chicago’s CBS affiliate reported on the story of a student at the Ogden International School who suffered constant anti-Semitic taunts for weeks. The hate grew so bad that the bullies created a team for the online game Clash of Clans that they named the “Jew Incinerator Clan.”
To describe the team, the kids wrote, “Heil! Throw Jews into ovens for a cause. We are a friendly group of racists with one goal – put all Jews into an army camp until disposed of. Sieg! Heil!”
“It’s disturbing,” the parent, Lisa Wolf Clemente, said last week. “They’re using a game as a catalyst to truly spread hate.”
“I’m 42 years old. I’m not new to this world,” Clemente said in a separate interview. “I didn’t become Jewish yesterday. I felt naive and shocked. We are in the year 2014. Really? At a school that my son has gone to? And I shake because I watched this group grow literally from four. Kids were just joining and joining.”
Mrs. Clemente tried several times to get authorities at the school to respond to her requests for action, but it wasn’t until the media began to talk about the incident that action was taken.
It wasn’t long before the Anti-Defamation League called on the CPS to take action. The ADL’s Lonnie Nasatir said, “I was shocked to see such outright hate that existed. And we were taken aback by the type of language used and the fact that they were rewarding people for agreeing with such an awful, awful position.”
The ADL urged the Chicago Schools to treat this as a “teachable moment” by bringing Holocaust survivors and counselors into the school to discuss how wrong these attitudes are.
In response to the incident, the CPS gave three students a one-day out-of-school suspension and a one-day in-school suspension. Several others were given only a one-day in-school suspension. All students involved are back in class.
Ultimately, on June 2 a public meeting was held at the school which dozens of parents attended to express their ire over the whole incident.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued a statement for the meeting saying, “Chicago Public Schools will never tolerate bullying or harassment by any student in any school. As a district we are committed to ensuring sage school environments in which every child feels secure, comfortable, and respected. The principal at Ogden International High School has worked in cooperation with the network and central office to foster a larger community dialog around cultural sensitivity and has taken the appropriate actions to ensure this is a teachable moment for our children.”
A statement from Rachel Kruer, spokeswoman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was also read at the public meeting.
“There is no room in our schools for bullying, discrimination, hateful speech or bigotry of any kind, whether it’s based on an individual’s religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,” the statement said. “We all have a responsibility to ensure Chicago is a welcoming and tolerant city for our students and residents of all backgrounds.”
However, some parents at the public forum felt that the CPS did not do enough to punish the students involved.
Parent Adam Schwartz said, “They have an opportunity right now to punish the kids that did this. To send a message to the other kids that, ‘Hey, this is not OK, this will not be tolerated, and if you do things like this there’s going to be consequences.'”
He decried the actions of the school system, calling its response mere “rhetoric” and little action.
Many parents felt that treating this incident as mere bullying belied the seriousness of the racism involved.
Some parents also noted that the CPS conduct code says that the punishment for “bullying” is a three to five day suspension. Yet these kids got only one or two days. Many said that with the racist intent of this bullying, the punishments were nowhere near sufficient.