Manhattan Beach Middle School and the Manhattan Beach Unified School District have been in the media spotlight this week following the school's response to Jewish students' complaints of harassment.
After Jewish MBMS students complained of another student making hate-filled statements to them, according to various accounts, the involved students were asked to sign a "No Contact Contract" pledging to stay away from each other. Yet parents and students called the contract a "gag order" that would muffle the students who had been harassed from speaking out.
MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes then issued a statement on the "No Contact Contract" that read, in part: "These agreements are commonly used in school districts across the country and even in universities. They ask students to avoid each other and not speak to one another in order to avoid re-igniting situations we are trying to resolve. This allows us to ensure that further interactions occur with adult guidance and not when students are in settings where that might not be available. The goal of these agreements is to help protect all students from any future conflicts with one another. Although the school requested that all students who were directly involved in this incident to enter into its standard 'No Contact Contract,' no students involved in this situation were required to sign it, nor was a gag order ever administered. Upon review, the district is updating the language of its current 'No Contact Contract' in order to eliminate confusion regarding its purpose and intent."
However, the situation continued to draw ire from parents as well as local and regional Jewish leaders. It also drew media attention from multiple local news stations as well as regional and even national publications.
On Tuesday, Bowes issued an email to parents that read, in part:
"While there are inaccuracies in the information circulating, it is
clear that there is still work to be done on our campuses to effectively
eliminate antisemitism. We started that work several years ago, and I
am committed to doing more. In addition to
meeting with the families impacted by the incident, I am reviewing the
practices surrounding the use of our 'No Contact Contract.' While the 'No Contact Contract' is a standard form, we understand that our times
are not standard, and this requires us not to
rely on our standard practices. After reevaluation, we have come to
realize the letter was not the best tool for this circumstance, and we
apologize for using it in this situation - we have learned from this
experience and will look to improve our practices
in the future.
"I have reached out to our partners at the Anti-Defamation League,
Rabbi Kalev, Rabbi Yossi, and other local leaders, as well as other
resources in our community, for input and assistance to address these
difficult issues. I am deeply grateful for their support,
and I know their insights and sensitivity will help guide our work
Manhattan Beach Had Adopted Working Definition of Antisemitism
The Manhattan Beach schools - as well as the city of Manhattan Beach - have experienced a series of antisemitic incidents
in the last few years, and most notably in 2022.
In October 2022, both MBUSD and the city of Manhattan Beach adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism
(also adopted by the U.S. State Department)
and endorsed the use of the working definition as a framework to
identify discrimination rooted in antisemitism and for discussions to
address such discrimination. The definition reads as follows:
is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred
toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are
directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property,
toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."
MBUSD also took steps such as adding the
Pulitzer-prize winning graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman as a core
literature selection to the middle school reading list. The district has also partnered with the Museum of Tolerance and the Holocaust Museum LA
to create in-service presentations and educational learning
opportunities for students, staff, and parents.