AURORA | The Cherry Creek School District is investigating a number of antisemitic incidents at schools that prompted a group of parents to speak at the district’s May school board meeting about what one parent called “systemic, rampant antisemitism.”

In April, several news outlets reported that multiple students had drawn swastikas on themselves after watching a presentation about the Holocaust in class.

At its May 8 board meeting, about 15 people, including ADL Mountain States regional director Scott Levin, spoke at public comment about the incident and other antisemitism they said they had experienced in the district. According to the ADL about 100 people were there in total to show support.

Parent Rikki Mor said that since news of the Campus Middle School incident broke, she has heard from a number of other Jewish families about antisemitic comments that their children have been on the receiving end of at school.

“Our kids are scared to say they are Jewish for fear of retaliation,” she said.

Mor also coordinated an open letter to the district that she said was signed by over 250 people.

Marla Rossow, a parent of two sons of West Middle School, said both of her children have experienced firsthand experiences of antisemitism including other students drawing swastikas on their papers, giving them Nazi salutes or calling them antisemitic slurs.

Jennifer Stern said that her daughter experienced an antisemitic bullying incident in the fall at Campus Middle School where two boys made Nazi salutes at her in the hallway that she did not believe was addressed with the seriousness it merited. Schools need to specifically identify and address antisemitism, she said, not just discuss it as hate speech

“The students are not being held responsible for their antisemitic words or actions,” she said.

At the meeting, Cherry Creek Superintendent Chris Smith thanked the speakers and said that the district “does not tolerate hate” against any group of people.

“I want to say, as the leader of this district, I’m sorry,” Smith said. “I am absolutely sorry, that these are the things that are happening to you in this district.”

Smith said the district is committed to doing better and asked for help from the community in helping to decrease violence and intolerance that students face. He also reiterated that Cherry Creek will continue to focus on equity, one of its stated core values, despite criticism from some corners.

“I will continue to push into equity, no matter how many people come to this board meeting and tell me to stop,” Smith said. “I believe in our kids, and I am thankful for this board of education who allows me to do what we do and allows my district team to do what they do. We are committed to being better.”

District board meetings, particularly in 2021, have at times become contentious as dozens of parents shared their thoughts about how Cherry Creek should address issues of equity and race. A recurring criticism is that the district’s equity work is diverting from its focus on academic achievement, something Smith disputed.

“I have had individuals come to this microphone and tell me that I have lost sight of instruction,” he said. “I have not lost sight of instruction. If our students don’t come whole to school, they will not learn, period.”

District spokesperson Lauren Snell said that several students are facing disciplinary action in connection to the incident, and that Campus Middle carried out its annual “No Place for Hate” awareness week earlier this month.

In an email newsletter distributed last week by ADL Mountain States, Levin said that the organization has been in contact with administrators at Campus Middle School and district leadership to provide resources about how to combat antisemitism.

“We have scheduled meetings with the Superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District to address issues in the immediate aftermath of the incident at Campus Middle School, as well as more proactive work the School District may do to counter antisemitism,” he said in the email.

The concerns raised about Cherry Creek are not taking place in a vacuum. According to data from ADL Mountain States, which serves Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, there were 81 reported antisemitic incidents in the region in 2022 and 100 in 2021.

The majority, 71, took place in Colorado. A news release from the ADL said that the incidents included one case of assault, 50 cases of harassment and 20 incidents of vandalism.

Nationally, the organization said in a report published in March that antisemitic incidents “surged to historic levels” in 2022 with 3,697 incidents documented across the country.

Locally, Denver University has also been the site of antisemitic vandalism this year, according to reporting in Colorado Public Radio.

Aurora politicians have attempted to address the issue, with state representatives Dafna Michaelsen Jenet and Iman Jodeh sponsoring a bill in the 2022 legislative session designating state money toward security funding for religious organizations and nonprofits. 

In the release, Levin said that these incidents underscore the urgency of countering antisemitism “whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.”

“We need everyone to recognize antisemitism for the true threat it is not only to Jews, but to our entire society,” he said. “The Jewish community cannot fight this hate alone.”

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