Resources for K-12 Parents

How To: Address School Inicidents

What to Do if Your Child's School is Part of the Problem

Encountering antisemitism in school can be shocking and upsetting for both students and their families. You may feel overwhelmed at the idea of confronting the discrimination while protecting your child. This guide is designed to help you navigate these incidents.

How can I help my child?

When your child tells you about experiencing discrimination at school, listen, and offer support. It’s normal for you to feel upset, but it will be more reassuring to your child if you can keep emotions in check. Gather as much detail as you can and take notes for reference.

Remember that The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects all students from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance from the Department.

Who should I talk to?

Contact these people, in the order below, to report an incident. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, escalate the issue to the next level. Contact information for all personnel listed below is on your school website. (Check at the side or bottom of the home page.) If you can’t find it, call the school office or your school district to ask. You don’t have to identify yourself.

1. Your child’s teacher.

2. Your school administrator (principal or vice principal): You are entitled to bypass the teacher and go directly to the principal. You may prefer this option if:

  • you don’t feel comfortable talking to the teacher
  • the teacher is the source of the concern
  • the issue doesn’t involve the teacher or happened outside the class setting

While policies may vary slightly, school districts generally require principals to follow a set process when they learn about an incident of antisemitism or other discrimination. Ask your principal for more information.

3. Your School Board: School board members are elected and represent the local community. Depending on your district, one of them may be specifically designated as your school liaison.

4. If you haven’t had an acceptable resolution, email incidents@juf.org for help.

What should I say?

It can feel awkward or intimidating to tell a teacher or principal about antisemitism. Still, it’s possible to approach your school in a way that best helps you find a resolution. Make clear that you want to support them in supporting their students.

Below, you’ll find sample language for these conversations; you can adapt them and make them your own.

Requesting a meeting/Prep

  • Keep your email request short and neutral in tone. Example:
    “Hi, Mr. Smith — Michael had an experience in class today that left him feeling uncomfortable (OR: anxious/unsafe). I’d like to meet with you to get your sense of what happened and discuss how to address it. Please let me know your availability.”
  • An in-person meeting is ideal for best communication. Second-best is a virtual meeting; third is a phone call.
  • Plan ahead what to say and consider your goals. If you’re nervous, practice with someone else or in front of a mirror. Make and bring notes to stay on track.
  • If possible, bring another person to the meeting to act as an advocate or witness, and task that person with taking careful notes. That will allow you to participate more actively in the conversation.

In the meeting

  • Stay calm. This might be difficult, but it gives you a better chance of being heard. It can help ease tension if you admit at the start that this situation is upsetting to you. Remember that you’re there to get a fuller understanding of the event—and be willing to collaborate on a resolution.
  • Relay what you’ve heard from your child and explain how they (and you) feel.
  • Get their observations, ask questions and restate what they say to confirm:
    “It sounds as if your view of the situation was ABC …. You mentioned that you had observed XYZ. Am I getting that right? …. I want to be sure I’m understanding this correctly…”
  • Take notes.
  • If the issue involves another student, try—at least at first—not to judge. Social media is full of misinformation (inaccurate) and disinformation (deliberately wrong). It’s common for kids to repost or say things without fully understanding their meaning/implications (e.g., “From the river to the sea”).
  • Always ask for a response by a set time—and follow up if you don’t hear back. You may have several conversations at one level as you work toward a resolution. If you don’t see progress or a good-faith effort within a reasonable time, escalate the concern.

After the meeting

Email your thanks and summarize the meeting, points of agreement, loose ends, next steps, and timeline for the expected response. This provides you with a necessary paper trail. Do this after each meeting:

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. To help us keep track of the details, I’ve summarized our discussion in the points below. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything.”

Remember

  • Avoid getting worked up or visibly angry. (If you tear up or cry, it’s OK.)
  • Don’t issue threats or ultimatums.
  • Take notes on every conversation and keep them in one place.
  • Don’t leave without a clear understanding of what’s next, and a timeline.

What if I want to be proactive?

If your child has not experienced any problems, but you want to be sure safeguards are in place:

  • Ask whether the school’s anti-bias incident response training (for faculty, staff and students) includes antisemitism, and if their DEI initiatives (for faculty, staff and students) include Jews and the Jewish experience. If not, ask that they add these components. Let them know JUF is happy to serve as a resource for these subjects. Contact gov@juf.org
  • Ask about political expression policy—what is and is not allowed—for students? For teachers?  Also ask how policies are enforced. What happens if a student or teacher comes to school wearing a cap or t-shirt with a message such as: “Free Palestine” or “Support the IDF” / “Black Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter”. Ensure that there is consistency. It is also important that administrators understand the implications of messages and are clear on the difference between, for example, “Free Palestine” or “Bring them home” and “From the river to the sea” or “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.”  Again, JUF is happy to serve as resource: contact gov@juf.org.

What else can I do?

It’s a good idea for parents to be proactive in building strong relationships with teachers and administrators. Developing regular communication with school personnel early on makes it easier to reach out later if you have concerns about antisemitism (or anything else).

If you feel comfortable, consider letting teachers and administrators know that your family is Jewish. This information will improve the school’s awareness of Jewish families’ presence and needs. Start by getting to know your child’s principal, guidance counselor and teachers. Here are some ideas:

  • Show up. Attend PAC (Parent Advisory Council) meetings or other school events. Administrators often are there; go meet them.
  • Volunteer. Offer time for your PAC. Even a small amount of time can provide a window into the workings of the school and make you a familiar face.
  • Introduce yourself. If you can’t get to school in person, email the principal and teachers to tell them about your family and anything you want them to know, such as:
    • if you keep Kosher
    • your level of observance
    • if your child wears a kippah
    • any lived experiences with antisemitism

You might ask questions, too. (Does the school have a Jewish club? Are there other Jewish students/families?) Mention you look forward to seeing teachers and administrators at parent conferences. If your child will be starting at a new school in the fall, contact administrators the previous spring with this information.

  • Share important dates. If your child will be absent for Jewish holidays, your introductory email is a good opportunity to let the principal and teachers know. Even better—every February, send your school the dates of major Jewish holidays for the following two school years. Let them know you’re communicating early with the hope of avoiding scheduling conflicts. In the fall, follow up by sending a reminder of these dates.
  • Plan ahead for trips. Multi-day school trips are usually planned months or a year in advance. If you know there is a regular trip at your school, it’s easy to give a heads-up well ahead of time. If the Grade 9 class goes to a wilderness camp every March, for example, contact school when your child is in Grade 8 to ask that this not be scheduled during Passover, when dietary laws can make travel a challenge.
  • Visit the classroom. If your child is in elementary school, reach out to the teacher and ask about coming in to teach the class about Chanukah (and/or Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot or Passover). If you’d like resources to help with this, please email gov@juf.org.

You’re not alone; we’re here to help.

Antisemitism is on the rise around the world, and Chicago is not immune. According to the ADL, there has been a 400% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes in the U.S. since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

We recognize that antisemitic incidents may happen to our young people in schools, post-secondary institutions, on campus and in the community. We also recognize that experiences of antisemitism may affect feelings of safety, belonging, and mental health.

Our staff is here to serve as a resource for you—and for your school district or community group—to ensure that Jewish students are treated appropriately. We offer a training session which explores current examples of antisemitic speech and behavior, provides best practices for handling instances of antisemitism, and offers remedies to improve school and campus climates for Jewish students.

For more information, contact gov@juf.org or incidents@Juf.org.