(May 31, 2019 / JNS) An Illinois high school district is withdrawing a course for educators titled "Teaching Palestine" after pushback from teachers and community members.
The Niles Township High School District 219 serves Lincolnwood and parts of Morton Grove, Niles and Skokie in Cook County, home to Chicago. There are an estimated 291,800 Jews in Illinois with most of them living in the Chicagoland area.
The district consists of Niles North High School and Niles West High School.
"On May 22, the district informed staff of several training opportunities outside of the district related to racial equality and social justice, including sessions offered by a group called Teachers for Social Justice. These Summer Inquiry to Action Groups (ItAGs) meet on various topics identified and developed by educators throughout the Chicago area," said district superintendent Steven Isoye, director of equity La Wanna Wells and Jim Szczepaniak, director of community relations and strategic partnerships, in a statement on Thursday. "One of the listed ItAG session is titled 'Teaching Palestine.'"
Niles Township stated that the lesson wasn't developed by the district, and that "the district was never going to provide continuing education credits or lane advancement credit for the course."
"We then heard from teachers and members of our community who were concerned about the one-sided nature of this course that addresses a very complex topic. We recognize that without multiple perspectives surrounding this topic, we created a sense of exclusion by including this offering," continued the statement. "We should have noted this before including the course and apologize for this mistake. Therefore, we are retracting the course from the list of offerings that were shared."
The lesson, according to the course description obtained by JNS, "brings together critical educators who want to teach about Palestine and the Palestine liberation struggle."
Objectives included developing "a deeper understanding of the history and current political context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Palestine liberation struggle," examining and analyzing "existing curriculum on Palestine, the Palestinian liberation struggle and Israel."
Goals also included discussing "concrete strategies for how to respond to Zionist professional developments and curricula or when parents/staff/others object to anti-Zionist curriculum," developing grade appropriate scope and sequence for teaching Palestine" and making "curriculum connections between Palestine and issues affecting our students, such as: state/police violence, the struggle for racial justice in the U.S., settler colonialism in Palestine and the U.S., access to education for historically marginalized youth."
Information from organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, a prominent anti-Israel group nationwide, is used in the course.
StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center applauded the reversal.
"We are pleased that District 219 acknowledged that their Teaching Palestine course was one-sided and inadequate to address a very complex topic, and that it created a sense of exclusion for Jewish and pro-Israel students," StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein told JNS. "We trust that their future faculty development and student courses on the Middle East will be properly vetted for fairness and accuracy."
"We were gratified to receive a call from Steven Isoye, superintendent of Niles High School District, in response to the SWC protest canceling the course and to have also received the district's formal statement acknowledging its error," said Simon Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Chicago-based Midwest director Alison Slovin.
"We plan to offer the school district educational materials, films and exhibitions that will help teachers and students alike better understand the complexities of the Middle East," added Slovin.