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DOE Chancellor Ramps Up Anti-Hate Efforts in City Schools

DOE Chancellor David Banks said he will train teachers on how to discuss the Israel-Hamas war in the classroom.
Incoming NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks Promises “Change Is Coming”
Department of Education Chancellor David Banks.

Amid a recent spike in Islamophobia and antisemitism, the New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks said he is implementing a new anti-hate curriculum and staff training in the nation’s largest school system.

“We're not going to solve the crisis of the Middle East,” said Banks at a public forum on Tuesday. “But what we're trying to do is to make sure that at least our kids learn to understand and appreciate one another and learn to love one another.”

The chancellor said he would add more support mechanisms for teachers to guide them on how to talk about the Israel-Hamas war. Each school will be required to appoint a “Respect For All'' liaison, a staff member who supports school culture and safety from harassment and discrimination. Banks said these liaisons will be provided with additional training ahead of DOE’s annual “Respect for All” week, which is a program that supports building a better understanding of diversity in schools.

When BK Reader asked about its direct engagement with teachers and principals regarding the department’s mission to combat hate, Dan Weisberg, the education department's first deputy chancellor said many teachers have not received the proper training to handle the topic of war in the Middle East.

“A lot of educators are very nervous about entertaining these topics at all," he said. 

Banks announced plans to assemble an Interfaith Advisory Council, furthering his engagement with the faith community. Pre-guidance discussions with Jewish Community Relations Council, the Muslim Community Network and the Jamaica Muslim Center have occurred, he added. 

As for the plan’s safety component, the department will roll out new guidelines and training on school safety and applying the system’s discipline code. The code outlines behavior standards for the department’s 1,867 schools. 

“As someone who's been an educator for over 30 years, I know that safety is a precondition for teaching and learning,” said Banks, who launched his career as a school safety officer.

The response from the DOE comes from a rise in Islamophobic and antisemitic acts in New York. The New York Police Department’s crime statistics for October reported a 214% rise in anti-Jewish incidents compared to October 2022 and also documented eight investigations into anti-Muslim crimes.

Banks said he was prompted to act after an incident at Hillcrest High School in Queens where hundreds of students took to the hallways to protest a teacher at the school who expressed support for Israel on social media in November. The demonstration turned chaotic, resulting in damage to a water fountain in the building and 25 police officers descending upon the school to quell the crowd.

“The issues are very charged, very emotional, and no one wants to be accused of being Islamophobic,” said Banks. “So, many of our adults would rather put their heads in the sand and not deal with it."