9/10/19 - The illegal release of a student's confidential information by school administrators (see also 9/24/14 and 8/18/16, below) in retaliation for filing an official complaint about unsuitable class materials, and additional threats by NPS administrators to students, parents, and teachers has resulted in a greatly reduced membership, and the few remaining PENS members are understandably reluctant to speak publicly about their concerns. Simply put, PENS is no longer a viable organization.
Although we will continue to update this site on an occasional basis, we are no longer able to continue our efforts in advocating for a balanced and non-biased curriculum. There has been little success in spreading our message, and our last success in removing objectionable material took place in 2012. In fact, the situation has become exponentially worse with the introduction of anti-Israel materials and an extremely biased curriculum in the class "Middle East, Asia, and Latin America" taught by David Bedar.
Bedar was the teacher who led the walk-out during the School Committee meeting in November, 2018 (see below). He claims that individuals concerned about the curriculum are "hateful" and refers to the neutral and well-respected organization Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) as a "hate group". An example of the overt bias in Bedar's class is the use of the "Palestinian Loss of Land" map, created and published by the PLO, in his class without informing students of the source of the map or the numerous responses refuting it.
Despite the existence of several maps countering the inaccurate PLO map, as well as statements by the ADL and other organizations explaining the map's bias, Bedar refused requests to present them as an alternative view. Students in Bedar's class see ONLY the Palestinian map and are not exposed to the Israeli point of view. This gives students the impression that, as there is no rebuttal to the claim that Israel has been 'stealing' Palestinian land for years, it must be true.
In addition to the fear of retaliation by school administrators if they speak out, parents report that Israeli students have been harassed by other students, some of whom reportedly attended Mr. Bedar's class and other classes in which students are taught anti-Israel views. They asked the NPS to establish a "safe space" where they could meet free of anti-Israel and anti-semitic comments and accusations. The NPS agreed that the problem required action and that a "safe space" was one of the steps the school would take. As of August, 2021, however, there has been no progress in creating the space. No mention of it appears on any NPS website, School Committee report, newspaper article, or any other items of information released by the NPS. The only publication, other than the Israel Action Committee letter announcing the NPS' promise, is a newspaper article in which parents and others express their disappointment with the NPS for failing to take any action with respect to anti-semitic class material or the bullying of Jewish and Israeli students.
In the meantime, administrators continue their refusal to listen to pleas to establish an adequate curriculum from parents, students, and reportedly, the few brave teachers who risked their jobs to report anti-semitic incidents to the authorities as required.
11/27/18 - Yet another contentious School Committee meeting about the curriculum and the right of the public to know what students are being taught. The meeting was convened because school committees are required to consider petitions by members of the public if a threshold number are signatures is collected. The petition on which the Newton School Committee was voting included that proviso that the NPS be required to allow free public access to class material.
The School Committee, unilaterally and for this meeting only, changed the order in which school representatives and the public spoke, an arrangement that allowed a pre-planned 'walkout' by teachers and students to occur. In the meeting, parents who called for the meeting spoke last instead of first as they usually do; while teachers responsible for the objectionable curriculum spoke first. After the teachers described critics of the curriculum as a "hate group" who wanted to remove students' exercise of 'critical thinking' they (and students from whom they solicited support) rose and marched out of the room. By leaving before parents had a chance to speak, of course, those who left rejected the opportunity to learn a different point of view, deliberately rejecting the opportunity for 'critical thinking' they claimed was so important. A video of the meeting is here.
At the end of the meeting, the School Committee voted to reject the petition and force the public, including parents, to file a formal public record request and pay several hundred dollars for the privilege of seeing their own children's class material.
None of this is a surprise. The NPS has consistently tried to block access to class material, going so far as having an administrator falsely claim that parents had no right at all to view what their children were studying. In addition, administrators openly state they are not interested in viewing class material or learning about potential issues with student texts. During the last few years, school faculty and administrators have proudly stated that they would not and did not read any of the numerous analyses of the curriculum, including an extensive report by a professor of Middle East history and a book (and update) by well-respected organization Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). See the sections "Meeting with Deputy Superintendent Ann Frederick" and "Meeting with Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Bergan" for further details.
7/2/18 - A contentious School Committee meeting and a joint letter from the ADL and JCRC were the aftereffects of the NPS' second "Middle East Day", at which at least two anti-Israel films were shown and students heard from at least one anti-Israel speaker. The NPS promised after last year's "Middle East Day" that either the event would not be held or that its contents would be reviewed in advance. Obviously, neither of these occurred. There has been no comment or response to the letter by the NPS.
2/21/18 - The Newton School Committee issued another false statement in which the public was told that the allegations of biased and inaccurate material, although made by respected organizations and confirmed by material issued by the NPS itself, are "misleading or untrue".
The statement, however, does not explain why Newton students are presented with deceptively altered versions of the P.A. and Hamas charters which omit a passage stating that all of "Israel belongs to "Palestine" and further omits a call for genocide.
Claims by school administrators that they have created a "nurturing and supportive" environment might ring hollow for the family whose legally confidential information was sent to the media by those same administrators, and by teachers who were threatened with retaliation when they asked school officials to report anti-semitic incidents to the police.
10/27/17 - A letter from the ADL to Newton Superintendent David Fleishman congratulated the school system for its "determination prior to the 2015-16 year that the Middle East curriculum should be changed" and its decision not to utilize "previously used materials". (No information about which material was removed was given).
The ADL has not made this letter or its new-found concern about the NPS curriculum public, likely because the letter contains significant misstatements. The NPS did not "determin[e] prior to the 2015-2016 year" that the curriculum was unsuitable; a look back at the events of the spring and summer of 2016 shows that the NPS continued to ignore widely expressed concerns about the curriculum expressed by parents, students, and organizations including Verity Educate, the Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and others, including the ADL itself.
Both the national ADL and its New England chapter described a map used in high school classes, which was taken directly from the PLO website (a fact not noted on the map) was "intentionally designed to mislead the public" when used on anti-Israel advertisements. However, the New England ADL had no objection when the same map, again without attribution, was given to students with no countervailing information and without any of the numerous other maps which counter the PLO map. The map continues in use, still with no countervailing information or other maps, as of January 2019. Moreover, not only was there no determination about the inadequacy of class materials, the very same class materials and curriculum used prior to 2015 are still in use in early 2019.
The ADL also declined to comment on school officials' threats to retaliate against teachers who urged the NPS to report anti-semitic incidents to the police.
The letter leaves it to the NPS to contact the ADL if they need help and has no provisions for ensuring the NPS follows up with its promises. In the past, the NPS has not been truthful with respect to its statements and promises, and it appears doubtful that any meaningful change will be made unless it is forced to do so. Nor is likely that the ADL, which until the date of this private letter has been adamant that there is 'no problem' with materials used in NPS classrooms, will require any change. It appears as if the letter was written as a result of public pressure and that the ADL has no real intention of advocating for any change at all.
10/25/17 - The use of inaccurate and biased materials in Newton high school World History classes has received increasing publicity over the past few months. Articles in the nationally-read blogs Algemeiner, Legal Insurrection, and American Thinker have addressed the issue and the role local organizations play in combating anti-semitic bias.
Although the above media is considered politically moderate or conservative, promoting the use of accurate and non-biased class materials is not a political issue, but an educational one. PENS members represent a variety of political affiliations; our concerns are not a 'conservative' or 'liberal' issue, but a matter of academic integrity and honesty. PENS members include families of several religions and a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Our sole purpose is to provide students with material from balanced and respected academic sources. We believe that material containing political, ethnic, or religious bias should only be used if the source and bias of those materials is disclosed to students and contrasting viewpoints addressed; they should never be cited as "factual" as is the case now.
7/6/17 - A book about inappropriate class materials used by students in Newton Public Schools and elsewhere, written by Steven Stotsky, a Senior Researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), has been published. Indoctrinating our Youth: How a U.S. Public Schools Curriculum Skews the Arab-Israeli and Islam analyzes class materials and provides an excellent background of how awareness of the problem arose. It's available at Amazon, the Newton library, and other libraries throughout the nation. If your library doesn't have a copy, ask them to purchase one. The book mentions PENS a number of times as being instrumental in the removal of the Arab World Studies Notebook and in bringing the class materials issue to public attention. [Update: The book is now available online for no charge here].
12/30/16 - The Jewish Advocate published a letter by PENS co-president Evan Jacobi regarding the continued use of anti-Israel materials in Newton schools. You can find the letter here.
8/18/16 - The U.S. Department of Education has ruled that the NPS violated federal law when School Committee Chair (then Vice-Chair) Matthew Hills sent confidential student information to the media for publication. A letter to a parent from the Massachusetts education department, regarding their minor child, was published in a Boston-area newspaper and two published blogs. The letter included the child's name, the name of the child's parent, their address, and other confidential information.
The DOE did not impose any sanctions on Hills or the NPS because they had already been "sanctioned" by having to review Massachusetts educational law. (Note: Hills and other School Committee members attend training sessions on student confidentiality law and other legal issues when appointed).
In the meantime, the family whose confidentiality was breached has spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours attempting to remove the confidential information from the internet, where it has remained for nearly three years. Mayor Setti Warren refused to help the family in any way despite pleas from them, other residents, and city councilpersons.
Jewish agencies, including agencies devoted to "combating anti-semitism", have also refused to help, possibly because School Committee member Matthew Hills is related to ADL staff and because of personal animosity towards activist Charles Jacobs, the creator and president of the organizations Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) and Open Newton Schools (ONS), who has been extremely critical of individual School Committee members and NPS Superintendent Fleishman as well as the ADL and other Jewish organizations. Although the parents did not belong to APT, and in fact had criticized the advertisements, apparently the 'alphabet' organizations were unable to distinguish concerned parents from Jacobs's group. The result of APT's misleading and inaccurate advertisements and Jacobs' deliberate antagonism of local political and religious leaders have done nothing to help rid schools of anti-Israel and anti-semitic material but actually harmed efforts to do so.
6/10/16 - An article by Evan Jacobi, "Founder of 'Mayors Against Anti-Semitism' Fails to Support Jewish Family Victimized by Anti-Semitic Retaliation" was published on blog by Dr. Richard Swier.
4/14/16 - The Jewish Journal of the North Shore (MA) published accurate and meaningful reports on a 'Community Forum' held in Newton on April 7th and other issues related to the school curriculum, including an editorial by PENS president Evan Jacobi. The Boston-area Jewish Advocate also published several letters and two articles about the forum and the class materials issue. Unfortunately, the Boston Globe, whose reporter attending the Forum was clearly uninformed about the issues involved, published an inaccurate and misleading article falsely implying that the event was disrupted by "Jewish activists" who harassed a woman of color. Other reports presented the situation accurately. A video of the meeting shows that the harassment was by a single individual, whose religious affiliation is not known, and who was shouted down by other attendees.
3/28/16 - Residents who attended tonight's School Committee meeting can find more information about the illegal retaliation against students and their families by the Newton Public Schools (NPS) and School Committee Chair Matthew Hills on this page. A redacted copy of the Retaliation Complaint against the NPS and Hills, and the decision by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) that the NPS and Hills acted unlawfully are here.
The retaliation has set back our progress considerably because residents understandably do not want to endanger their children or grandchildren. As long there are no sanctions for the retaliatory acts, the intimidation and indoctrination of Newton students and their parents will continue.
3/23/15 - We have nearly completed our upload of documents analyzed in the Verity Educate report to our library at www.scribd.com [Update: the material is now here]. We chose scribd because it allows notes to be incorporated with the document. We also uploaded a number of newspaper articles.
Our next project will be to more fully develop instances of anti-Muslim bias in Newton classrooms.
1/6/15 - PENS has reached out to the Asian-American community with respect to stereotypes and bias about Asians in Newton schools. The matter came to public attention in 2014 with the production of the play "Thoroughly Modern Millie" by the Newton North High School Theater Department. The play contains caricatured and demeaning depictions of persons of Asian ancestry, leading some students to avoid working on the production and the recognition that bias and stereotypes still exist.
The play's faculty director said that the play was used to teach students about racial stereotypes and that the school tried to depict the characters as "fully developed human beings".
Other schools which produced the play obtained permission to revise the script to present Asian-Americans in a non-caricatured and positive manner.
12/1/14 - PENS members met today with NPS officials Cynthia Bergan, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning; Jennifer Price, Principal of Newton North High School; Jonathan Bassett, Chair of the History Department at Newton North.
The ostensible purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Verity Educate Report and the NPS response to its findings. However, were told at the meeting that no NPS official, including those present, had reviewed the Report, and that there were no plans to do so.
Apparently, school officials have no intention of removing even doctored primary source materials from classrooms. Further action is needed to ensure that Newton students receive accurate information with respect to Middle East history and religions which arose in that region.
Additional information and a letter to Ms. Bergan, Ms. Price, and Mr. Bassett may be found here.
9/24/14 - A PENS member has come forward about the retaliation she and her child experienced as a result of her work exposing biased and inaccurate class materials in Newton schools. She did not speak out before due to fear of additional retaliation and the need to spend her time and energy ameliorating the consequences of the Newton Public Schools' (NPS') retaliatory acts, which put her children at physical and emotional risk.
9/4/14 - The independent research organization Verity Educate has issued an extensive report on materials used in Newton high school history classes. The report describes numerous examples of grossly inaccurate and/or biased material used in Newton classrooms, including a falsified version of the Palestinian National Charter presented to students as accurate, an anti-Israel timeline described as 'neutral', a set of maps designed to support an anti-Israel narrative, extremist views presented as moderate, and additional examples.
We very much appreciate Verity Educate's interest in the situation in Newton, and thank the many scholars and researchers who devoted their time to this project. We could not have received better or more responsive support anywhere.
5/24/14 - It has come to our attention that teachers may still be using the Arab World Studies Notebook in high school history classes, despite the fact that the text was supposedly removed from the curriculum in June, 2012. If true, this would be a devastating indictment of the lack of trustworthiness of NPS administrators.
Update: It has been confirmed that at least one teacher has continued to use the book two years after it was supposedly 'removed'. The NPS rejected our request to send more than one memorandum of the decision to teachers. This is one of the effects of the NPS's refusal to perform any review, ever, of material used in classes and school libraries. Superintendent David Fleishman indicated that the continued use resulted from an 'oversight'.
5/2/14 - The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has determined that NPS School Committee Matthew Hills violated state law when he transmitted confidential information pertaining to a PENS member and child to media entities.
1/13/14 - It's likely that more visitors will be reading this in the next few days. Right now we don't have the resources to interface with the schools and NPS administrators, or update this website, to the extent we would like. If you are able to help with the website (no technical skills required) or support our goal to ensure Newton students learn from accurate, unbiased sources, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The advertisements published in October 2013 remain controversial. The ADL castigated the ads and continues to claim there is 'no problem' with Newton high school class materials on the Middle East. While the ADL is correct that much of what the ads claimed was inaccurate, this does not mean that concerns about the class material are illusory. Unfortunately, the ADL and other Boston-area Jewish organizations - the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) - are uninterested in hearing about parent's concerns. The pattern of refusing to speak with or read about valid concerns and then claim that one is unaware of any 'problems' does not serve the community, students, or the organizations themselves.
In late November 2013, the ADL told the newspaper Jewish Advocate that it had conducted a review of the materials discussed in the APT advertisements but refused to it, stating it was "private". ADL officials said that the public should accept their contention that there was nothing wrong with the materials and that there was no need for further review or questions. However, the ADL also admitted that it never asked the NPS about at least one item of material criticized by several organizations because he did not personally know whether it had been used in Newton classrooms. Later, a different ADL official said the report did not exist.
The Jewish Community Relations Council also said it had prepared a report regarding allegations made in the APT ad, but also refused to produce it.
After the ADL continued to withhold the report despite numerous requests from organizations and a public outcry, and having received several different accounts of the report which changed over time, the Jewish Advocate questioned whether the report existed at all. It also quoted a pro-Israel advocate who whether there was a report at all, and also questioned the ADL's integrity with respect to a controversy at Northeastern University. In response, the ADL stopped advertising in the Jewish Advocate.
In late December 2013, the ADL produced an undated "report" of just over three pages containing numerous inaccuracies about the material reviewed. The combined behavior of the ADL, APT, and other Jewish institutions damaged relations between organizations which should be working together, not attacking each other, and seriously damaged the reputation of all groups involved.
10/29/13 - The controversy over the advertisement published by the groups Open Newton Schools ("ONS") and Americans for Peace and Tolerance ("APT") in several Massachusetts newspapers has brought the work done by those groups to our attention. In our opinion, the published advertisement is misleading and inaccurate. It presents material inaccurately and implies that students used material and texts which in fact were not used. In addition, personal attacks do not help our attempt to form a working relationship with school administrators.
We disapprove of the advertisement and have no connection to its publication.
7/1/13 - The Committee on Accuracy in Reporting in the Middle East in America (CAMERA), a respected media organization, has released an analysis of anti-Israel material used in Newton schools. The analysis, titled Misinforming Students on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, is on the front page of CAMERA's website [Update: now online here] and has been republished in several newspapers.
6/21/13 - The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has launched an investigation into the review policy for classroom materials in Newton Schools. The investigation came about as a result of a complaint by a PENS member.
12/9/12 - The Newton North history department has decided to address one of the numerous inaccuracies in the book A Muslim Primer, used in 9th grade history classes. The passage in question, which declares that the Catholic Church is "reconsider[ing] polygamy as a Christian option", was brought to the attention of the school by a parent. The school's response is to have teachers "white out" the passage because it "might be misleading".
10/10/12 - The Newton North High School Library has agreed to remove a link to the website Flashpoints (now defunct), which was listed as a reference source on the library's website. The site contains inaccurate, biased, and arguably anti-semitic material as well as numerous spelling and grammatical errors. The library explained that Flashpoints was owned by a different organization at the time it was added to the list of library resources.
An example of material on the Flashpoints website is here.
We appreciate the library's attention to the matter and quick response to parent concerns. The incident, however, illustrates the compelling need for a periodic review of both classroom and library resources.
7/18/12 - Two PENS members met with NPS Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Dr. Ann Koufman Frederick about our concerns regarding inaccurate and biased school materials. Dr. Frederick was given information about materials used by students, including specific examples, both prior to and at the meeting.
Dr. Frederick's response was extremely disappointing. She denied there was any problem with school materials and stated that there was no need for correction or review. She also said that parents had no right to review their children's educational materials at all (contrary to NPS, state, and federal policy), that she was not responsible for overseeing student material despite her title and designated responsibilities; and that the parents unhappy with the current situation "should find another school for [their] children".
See this page for further details and a letter sent to Dr. Frederick about the meeting.
7/5/12 - The Newton School Department recently announced that the Arab World Studies Notebook would no longer be used in Newton schools. We appreciate Superintendent Fleishman's decision to remove the Notebook from the curriculum, and look forward to working with school administrators to ensure that students receive the balanced and challenging education they deserve.