Lawmaker calls for suspension of Palm Beach County teacher over email about Israel-Hamas war
The teacher asked the school district to “publicly recognize the Palestinian community” in its communications about the war.
The Palm Beach Post | By Katherine Kokal | November 16, 2023
A Florida state lawmaker is calling for a Palm Beach County first grade teacher to be suspended from her job after she sent a letter to the superintendent and school board asking for the district to “publicly recognize the Palestinian community” in its communications about the Israel-Hamas war.
State Rep. Mike Caruso, a Republican from Delray Beach, sent a letter to the Palm Beach County School Board Wednesday calling the teacher’s letter and apparent social media posts “disgusting antisemitic genocidal rhetoric.” Caruso accused the teacher of posting “from the river to the sea” on her Facebook page, a pro-Palestinian slogan that Israel’s supporters say is antisemitic and a call to destroy the state of Israel.
As of Wednesday afternoon, her public profile did not contain the slogan.
Caruso said the teacher should be suspended while her letter and social media posts are investigated. He said the teacher should have condemned Hamas, the terrorist organization responsible for an Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which 240 people were taken hostage and more than 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli officials.
The issue stems from an Oct. 10 message sent from Superintendent Mike Burke to students, staff and family about the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Burke’s message said, “Antisemitism, like any form of discrimination or hatred, has no place in our schools or community. Our schools will not tolerate antisemitism, and we will take appropriate action to address and prevent any instances that may arise.”
The school district did not answer questions from The Palm Beach Post about whether it had seen any incidents of antisemitism or Islamophobia since the attacks. It also did not answer questions about why Burke sent the message or why it did not include a reference to Islamophobia.
Palm Beach stands in solidarity during a pro-Israel rally at The Great Lawn of West Palm Beach on Sunday October 15. About 200 people attended the event. Jennifer Lett, JENNIFER LETT/THE PALM BEACH POST
The teacher’s Nov. 1 email to Burke and the school board urged the district to also recognize violence against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. More than 11,000 people, including 4,600 children, have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to figures from the Hamas-run health ministry.
“Parents can only effectively engage in conversations with their children about the importance of respect, empathy, and the harmful consequences of prejudice if they understand that the Palestinian people in Gaza are being violently and indiscriminately massacred,” the teacher wrote.
Caruso, whose district does not include the school where the teacher is employed, sent district aide Eva Sazonova to Wednesday’s school board meeting to read a letter calling for her suspension.
“What bothers me, as well as constituent parents, is whether or not her speech has spilled over into the classroom,” Caruso wrote. “The brainwashing of our five and six year olds with hate of any kind is disgusting and unlawful.”
Caruso did not cite any examples of the teacher’s behavior in the classroom.
The school board did not publicly reply to the letter, and they took no action on the teacher’s employment.
Read the text of the teacher’s Nov. 1 letter below:
Good Afternoon Superintendent Burke and School Board Members,
I am an employee of Palm Beach School District and I am writing to you in regard to the ongoing devastation in the Middle East.
Mr. Burke, in your last email regarding the topic on October 10th, you reminded our District that “we stress the values of respect, tolerance, and inclusivity” and encouraged parents to engage in conversations with their children about the importance of respect, empathy, and the harmful consequences of prejudice. For this, I commend you.
However, the atrocities in Palestine, specifically Gaza have not stopped. Today marks the 25th day of constant bombardment on innocent Palestinian civilians with a death toll at over 8,000, of which 3,500 are children.
As an educator of our community’s children, I implore you to uphold the stress on the “values of respect, tolerance, and inclusivity” for the Palestinians in our community during this devastating time. Parents can only effectively engage in conversations with their children about the importance of respect, empathy, and the harmful consequences of prejudice if they understand that the Palestinian people in Gaza are being violently and indiscriminately massacred.
On October 14, Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six year-old boy, was stabbed 26 times at his home in Chicago by his family’s landlord as a result of hate crime due to the family being Muslim and Palestinian. Our community must be properly informed about the devastation happening to Palestinians to avoid such hate and evil.
In addition, I would like to make something very clear: The American voices speaking up for the freedom of Palestine and calling for a ceasefire, including countless Jewish voices, are voices for humanity. This is not a matter of religion, skin color, or race. This is a matter of humanity. We as humans are standing up for human rights.
Every morning for the last 25 days, I am waking up to first-hand accounts online of Palestinian civilians being killed. Palestinian parents crying out because their children were killed and dismembered by the bombing. Palestinian children crying out because their parents were killed. Doctors treating patients on the floor of hospitals with no anesthesia and no electricity, just the flashlight from a phone. I, amongst many Americans, Arab and non-Arab, mourn these losses and feel helpless and in awe at what we are witnessing.
So again, I am pleading with you to please publicly recognize the Palestinian community by speaking up for humanity and encourage our community to show understanding and empathy to the Palestinian people.