Elementary school project about Hitler causes controversy in New Jersey town

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021
School assignment about Hitler causes controversy in NJ town
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Anthony Johnson reports on the controversial project at an elementary school in Tenafly.

TENAFLY, New Jersey (WABC) -- There is growing outrage over a controversial class assignment at a school in New Jersey.

Maugham Elementary School in Tenafly says it is now investigating after teachers allowed a student to write a biography glorifying Adolf Hitler -- who is responsible for the brutal murders of six million Jewish people -- and then displayed that student's work in the school hallway for weeks.

The assignment included that student dressing up as Hitler as well.

"It's appalling, it should've been stopped the minute this girl game to school," resident Shimon Avrahami said.

The fifth grade project caught the attention of local leaders who are calling on the board of education to conduct a full investigation.

"The teachers are responsible for what happens in the classroom and they're responsible for what gets posted on the walls," said Mark Zinna, mayor of Tenafly.

Jason Shames, CEO and Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation Northern New Jersey, said school officials "need to be looked at."

"There's the teacher, there's the principal, there's the superintendent, and that's seems to be the chain of command needs to be looked at," Shames said.

The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, a Jewish Community Center in Tenafly, also released a statement on the incident.

"This incident further illustrates the need for increased awareness in our community about the harmful impact our words and actions can have on others. Regardless of the educational intent here the teacher failed to recognize the profound impact this can have on students, family members and others in our community who could perceive this project as condoning or even glorifying the atrocities of one of the most evil individuals in world history."

Parents say the student who wrote the paper is getting bullied in school. Many say it's not the fifth grader's fault, but instead the mistake is on the adults who also allowed the student to come into the school dressed in a costume depicting Hitler.

Tenafly Councilwoman Lauren Kohn Dayton said the "inquisitive child wanted to learn more about the Holocaust."

"When discussing our history and social injustice in the fifth grade, the Holocaust is an important topic to discuss and learn, and this student was given permission to do so," Dayton said. "The child stuck to the requirements of a school assignment. The child had NO intention to be anti-Semitic, offensive or hateful towards our Jewish community. I personally know this child and her family, and I would welcome them into my Jewish home anytime. If we are to have a conversation about appropriate school assignments, teaching, or teacher guidance for our children, then let's talk to the school. But please remember that this is an elementary school child, and the child's mental health and well-being must be protected. Ask for the facts from your local town and BOE representatives."

The board of education put out a response Tuesday afternoon suggesting it was all a misunderstanding, saying the assignment was on historical figures who personify good and evil.

"The assignment, which was given by a teacher who happens to be Jewish, asked students to speak from the perspective of one of these individuals and how they might have perceived and rationalized their actions. When people saw the students' projects, which were displayed in the school, they did not understand the assignment, resulting in justifiable concerns."

The few parents who spoke said they're disappointed.

"I'm very shocked myself to hear about what went on," parent Tracey Stevens said. "I'm very surprised."

There was a lot of negative reaction on social media, but there is also a petition supporting the teacher who gave the assignment.

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