EducationThe Examiner

Chappaqua Schools Redesigning Israeli-Palestinian Curriculum

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By Martin Wilbur

The Chappaqua School District is revising its global studies and foreign policy curriculum relating to the Middle East conflict after criticisms were leveled this fall that lessons that had been used were potentially biased.

School officials held a special Board of Education meeting last Wednesday morning at Horace Greeley High School to announce the district was entering into an agreement with the Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS) to review the district’s lesson plans and resources on the subject matter.

ICS was launched in 2005 to help K-12 educators across the U.S. more accurately and effectively provide lessons on Judaism and Jewish history.

There will also be a focus on additional staff development and training for all social studies teachers regarding antisemitism and Islamophobia as well as training for all faculty on antisemitism led by the American Jewish Committee. Since last spring there have been several antisemitic incidents at the high school, which caused some parents to call into question the district’s commitment to protect all of its students.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman said that after the holiday break faculty will redesign lessons on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before having it sent to ICS for review.

“If there are other concerns that are brought forward regarding the curriculum, it allows for an outside agency who has expertise in instruction to complete (the review0 that our community is asking us for that is appropriate and addresses the concerns that have been shared with us,” Ackerman said.

The changes followed a late October petition signed by about 450 community members who expressed deep concern that the district’s selection of Brown University’s Choices Program “promulgates biased, propagandistic and anti-Israel material.” It started being used shortly after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. The petition called on the district to have the materials reviewed by an outside independent source.

Mary Devane, Chappaqua’s director of social studies, said there were focus groups that surveyed students, which revealed that the students want to understand the historical origins of the Israeli-Palestinian issue from as an objective viewpoint as possible.

“They want to make sure there’s an unbiased presentation of the conflict,” Devane said.

It is unclear whether the district has entirely dropped the Choices Program from the curriculum. When asked by The Examiner about the status of that program, Ackerman responded in a statement that the ICS curriculum review “may also result in a shift away from some of the past resources, materials, and lessons used to support instruction.”

The board appeared encouraged that the district is adjusting the curriculum in one of the most sensitive areas of study. Board member Matt Auerbach said one of the problems with the Choices Program is that he felt it didn’t adequately allow for a robust debate on the subject.

“I think that a lot of the community’s feedback regarding Choices, in particular, is that it doesn’t open up, lend itself to a discussion that has both sides to it,” he said. “We want our kids to be able to identify and have the conversation, but when it has only one perspective, that’s when it becomes more dangerous.”

Board President Hilary Grasso thanked the Social Studies Department for coming up with recommendations to improve curriculum while taking the concerns of the community into consideration.

“We appreciate so much that you could take the community’s perspective into this work and into our approach moving forward, and I think this is a very solid approach going forward,” Grasso said.

There will be a Jan. 18 forum for parents of students in grades K-8 with Steven Goldberg, a longtime social studies teacher in the state and Director of Education for The Westchester Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. The district also plans to host a series of focus groups for parents of all students over the next couple of months.

In another related development, the board adopted the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. That was requested by some parents who spoke at the contentious Nov. 15 board meeting where dissatisfaction with the Choices Program was voiced.




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