Heavily Jewish school district hides emails on censoring students for Holocaust Remembrance Day

New Trier known for mandatory racial workshops on MLK Day. Anti-Israel activism heats up with shutdown of Golden Gate Bridge and, nearby, UC Berkeley law students claiming First Amendment right to take over dean's dinner party.
Jewish students gather at Columbia University

Amid a surge of reported antisemitic incidents worldwide since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, a wealthy suburban Chicago school district known for forcing students to take racially charged seminars also rejected their Holocaust Remembrance Day proposal.

New Trier Township High School District 203 won't turn over communications among administrators that could shed light on that decision, however, leaving the superintendent's claims unrebutted.

Parents Defending Education filed an Illinois Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last week, seeking an order compelling the district to produce emails from 13 administrators, including equity liaisons Timothy Hayes, Patricia Savage-Williams and Kiran Subhani from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 that matched the terms "Holocaust," "Palestine" or "Gaza."

The district deemed the request "unduly burdensome" relative to "the public interest in the information" and denied it in full March 1, according to the Cook County Circuit Court complaint. That's balderdash, PDE said: "Both New Trier Township and New Trier High School have a substantial Jewish population."

President Nicki Neily put the lawsuit in the context of "a massive wave of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in our K-12 schools" across America since Oct. 7, in a Friday fundraising pitch for the nonprofit advocacy group.

Anti-Israel activism has become steadily more disruptive across America in the past six months, continuing Monday in activists shutting down southbound traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge and police shutting down northbound traffic while otherwise standing by.

But alleged antisemitism and lack of concern for Jewish students in K-12 schools in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war have received far less attention than campus incidents, especially in the Ivy League, as serious as physical threats against Cornell University's Jewish center.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on Columbia University's response to antisemitism because of "the severe and pervasive nature of these cases" on campus, said Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.

Already under investigation by the committee for its response to antisemitism – including alleged assault, attempted robbery, vandalism, "violence and disorder" and an ongoing activist occupation of a campus gate – the University of California Berkeley is dealing with worsening protests from anti-Israel student activists.

Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine took over an April 9 dinner for graduating students, hosted in the home of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and his wife, law professor Catherine Fisk, after he spurned the group's demands to cancel. (Most sources wrongly state the date as April 10.)

It denounced the three nights of dinners as "PR events for Zionist admin" in an Instagram post BLSJP has since deleted. "No Dinner with Zionist Chem While Gaza Starves!" another post declared, depicting the Jewish dean with a bloody knife and fork – an alleged blood libel – later deleting and reposting the image sans blood.

Illinois's New Trier high school district, whose Winnetka campus is ranked 14th best in the state by U.S News and World Report, has courted controversy for the better part of a decade over its special learning days.

It forced high schoolers to attend school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2016. They could choose from more than 80 race-focused workshops, including "Yer' A White Wizard, Harry" about the Harry Potter films and how "white guilt can become a roadblock in our journeys toward becoming white allies." 

The next year New Trier mandated a similarly ideological "All-School Seminar Day" without consulting parents on the content, which included a graphic rap song. The district allegedly told a parent it would honor opt-outs, "no questions asked," without making the change public.

Superintendent Paul Sally rejected a student-initiated component to Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 27 when they asked to distribute #WeRemember stickers in classrooms, drawing outrage and regional media attention including from the Chicago Tribune.

Minutes from the Feb. 20 school board meeting show Assistant Superintendent Denise Dubravec described the administration's celebration of the day, including "a PA announcement," bulletin board displays created by students and social media posts.

Sally followed with a lengthy statement taking sole responsibility for shutting down the stickers – "not the equity liaisons, not campus leaders" – which "led many of you to be here tonight." 

He said the idea had been sprung on administrators with too little time to prepare advisers to "think about how to handle non-Holocaust Remembrance Day related discussions that could have arisen," which could spur "a situation where it could cause them harm."

"What I did not understand was the level of enthusiasm that our Jewish students and staff had for the new sticker distribution activity," Sally said. He previously apologized to them individually and understood "why they were so hurt" without a contemporaneous explanation from him.

PDE said the district doesn't have a leg to stand on under a determination by the state attorney general's office that a "FOIA request for city emails resulting in 174 responsive documents," requiring review before release, does not make it unduly burdensome.

"Here, the public has a strong interest in knowing how New Trier Township High School leaders and administrators discuss and view important issues impacting and implicating religious groups" and "the actions and viewpoints of public agency employees related to race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual harassment," the suit says.

At Chemerinsky's dinner for graduating UC Berkeley law students, video shows the dean repeatedly telling BLSJP leader and graduating student Malak Afaneh to leave their home while his wife, Fisk, tries to physically move her and take the microphone. 

Afaneh gave a speech in favor of Hamas-run Gaza that invoked fasting during Ramadan. She claimed the progressive National Lawyers Guild (NLG) told her group they had a "First Amendment right" to disrupt a dinner on private property. 

"They are not wrong," Afaneh told Chemerinsky, the author of a First Amendment textbook who publicly denounced Stanford law students for shutting down a student event with federal appellate judge Kyle Duncan last year. The student called Fisk's bluff to call police to remove them.

"There's a genocide going on" and "you have not done anything about divesting" the law school from Israel, another activist told the dean, who denied the premise. About a dozen attendees appeared to be part of the protest, judging by those who left their chairs during the incident.

Afaneh told Fisk the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, for which Afaneh is a law clerk, would be alerted that the professor "assault[ed]" her by "pull[ing] a Muslim woman's scarf during Ramadan." 

NLG seized on Fisk placing her hands on Afaneh but did not back the student's claim that her rights were definitively violated. 

"A person's First Amendment rights may extend beyond traditional public forums into spaces that are limited or non-public forums" and government actors like Chemerinsky "may violate" those rights by suppressing such disrupters, NLG wrote in an X post.

The CAIR chapter condemned the "alleged assault"  and accused Chemerinsky of "perpetuat[ing] an atmosphere of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism for too long" but did not claim the couple violated Afaneh's First Amendment rights.

Neither the guild nor CAIR chapter responded to Just the News queries.

"Our home is not a forum for free speech," Chemerinsky wrote in an April 10 statement. "Indeed, even if this were held in the law school building, there would be no First Amendment right to disrupt the event."

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression said there was no doubt that Afaneh didn't have a First Amendment right to take over the party, which was "at most ... a space traditionally not open to the public but that was opened to a limited audience for a specific purpose."

Even as taxpayer-funded officials, Chemerinsky and Fisk "could rightfully ... restrict speech to casual dinner conversation, not political speeches on a PA system, so long as they did not discriminate on the basis of a person’s viewpoint," FIRE wrote.