Mountain Brook School superintendent forms education committee following push from ADL, BJF when video of students with swastikas emerged

Updated: May. 22, 2020 at 10:38 AM CDT
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MOUNTAIN BROOK, AL (WBRC) – In response to the video, Mountain Brook School Superintendent Dr. Richard Barlow has formed an education committee "that will begin meeting immediately to assess what is currently being done in Mountain Brook schools, as well as what additional education and resources will need to be made available for students K-12.”

That is according to an update to community members from Birmingham Jewish Federation CEO Danny Cohn, who says he accepted a seat on the committee.

Cohn’s entire update reads as follows:

"As many of you are aware, there was a recent incident on Facebook involving a video containing anti-Semitic tropes by including students from the Mountain Brook City Schools. Since this video appeared, Dr. Barlow, the Superintendent of Mountain Brook City Schools, and I have been in close communication and partnership on how best to address this incident and educate our youth so that similar instances do not occur in the future.

I am pleased to report that Dr. Barlow has formed a committee that will begin meeting immediately to assess what is currently being done in Mountain Brook schools, as well as what additional education and resources will need to be made available for students K-12. Dr. Barlow has asked me to sit on the committee and I have accepted. The committee will also include others from minority and faith-based communities, including a representative from one of our agencies, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. I am honored to serve as a representative of our community on this committee. For background, I have included a statement from the Mountain Brook City School’s school board.

I look forward to providing you updates from the committee as well as what the final educational plan will entail. In addition to this committee work, the Birmingham Jewish Federation, along with the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and the Levite Jewish Community Center, will be rolling out the Anti-Defamation League’s Words to Action program this summer for our Jewish middle schoolers and high school students. Words to Action: Empowering Students to Address Anti-Semitism is an interactive education program for Jewish middle, high school and college students designed to empower and equip them with constructive and effective responses to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias. Watch for sign up information in the near future.

While I am saddened about the incident, I am gratified that it has brought the Jewish community and the broader community together to address hate in a meaningful way through advanced education."

The Mountain Brook Schools superintendent said he is referring a video of young men with swastikas drawn on their bodies to the Mountain Brook Police Department for review.

The video was first posted on the “What’s Happening in Mountain Brook” Facebook page, but soon, more than Mountain Brook was commenting.

“It’s important for people to be able to pay attention to this. We need to educate our students so we can eradicate this behavior,” said Danny Cohn, Director, Birmingham Jewish Federation.

Cohn said once he was made aware of the video, he contacted Mountain Brook Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Barlow. The people in the video have not been identified, but Dr. Barlow sent a letter to MBS parents Wednesday acknowledging and condemning it.

“This morning we became aware of a video posted to Snapchat that shows a group of teenagers from Mountain Brook and neighboring communities engaged in drawing anti-Semitic symbols. Mountain Brook Schools has been in touch with the Mountain Brook Police Department, Birmingham Jewish Federation, and local faith leaders regarding this incident,” reads the letter.

It continues, “MBS condemns all hateful ideologies and actions. The conduct exhibited in the video is in direct conflict with the values of our school system. We are in the process of investigating the incident and determining the legal parameters for actions occurring outside of school. MBS strives to foster a culture of inclusion, connection, and care. We are steadfastly committed to strengthening that culture and continuing to develop solidarity in our community.” Cohn said Dr. Barlow “has been wonderful to work with in identifying how we can educate these students moving forward.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also been in contact with Dr. Barlow after being made aware of the video.

In a letter, the ADL’s Deputy Regional Director Erin Beacham wrote, “It was brought to our attention that Mountain Brook students posted a video on Facebook that included swastikas and the word “HEIL” drawn on the back of one of the students. As disturbing as it is to see messages of hate being shared by our youth, ADL believes incidents like these can be turned into teachable moments and an opportunity to educate students and the community on the destructive impact of hate symbols and bias.”

ADL has taught its “No Place for Hate” program in 38 schools in Alabama this school year and is offering to lead the program in MBS.

Beacham added in her letter to Dr. Barlow, “We continue to adapt our education programs in order to provide them virtually and are ready to support the Mountain Brook school district in your immediate response to this incident.”

As of Thursday evening, Dr. Barlow had not responded to ADL.

“I think people need to understand that swastikas, particularly are a symbol of Nazism and there were more than 6 million people lost and killed in mass genocide during World War II. This is not a symbol to be proud of. This is a symbol to look at and learn from and so we don’t repeat history and things like this don’t happen again,” said Cohn.

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