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Friday, June 09, 2006

Truly Unbelievable

I posted last week about a brave and well-spoken local high school student, Ilana Yurkiewicz, who wrote an amazing op-ed in last week's Nassau Herald regarding her experience teachers who tolerated the expression of anti-Semitic and anti-Orthodox sentiment from their students.

Well.

This week, the outgoing president of the Lawrence Teachers Association, Stephen Clements, decided to print a letter to the editor as a rebuttal. I didn't expect much from Mr. Clements. After his organizing of teacher protests outside a local Orthodox board member's office, accusing him of not looking out for the needs of non-Orthodox district students, as well as organizing the picketing of a local Yeshiva over teachers' contracts, I already knew he was not someone actively looking out for the resolution of this community's truly unfortunate divide. But this letter really sinks him to a new low.

Read it and weep:
To the editor:

Ilana Yurkiewicz is one of the finest students who has ever walked the halls of Lawrence High School. We are proud of her accomplishments and find joy in her success. however, even the best students sometimes make mistakes, and her "Lawrence Lately" column in your June 1-7 issue is one of those times. She makes generalizations about her fellow students'attitudes that are unfair. By implying that anti-Semitism is widespread at Lawrence High School, she disregards the spirit of tolerance that prevails among the overwhelming majority of our teenagers.

In the wake of the onset of a fourth year of austerity, it has been reported to me that there have been a number of incidents of students' making inappropriate remarks that could be construed as anti-Semitic. In every case, teachers reported that they used the remark as a "teachable moment" to advance tolerance. I know that the very day the Herald hit newsstands, I experiences such an incident in my classroom. It was dealt with swiftly and forcefully.

That being said, students are reacting to budget defeats that reveal a highly polarized electorate, with a clear bloc of voters supportive of district budgets, and a clear bloc voting against them. Students are reacting to the reality created by those voting patterns. Clearly there is a split in this community. Students see buildings deteriorating, programs being cut and resources becoming scarce. They read local newspapers and understand the divisions in the community.

We, as adults and teachers, do not believe anger and hatred are healthy student reactions. But we wonder: Did those who organized no votes on district budgets really think there would be no consequences of their anti-budget actions and strategies?

If these are people of good will who want to end this destructive pattern, count us in as partners in this effort. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Stephen Clements
President, Lawrence Teachers Association

So let me get this straight. To recap his talking points:
  1. Ilana Yurkiewicz: Smart and accomplished girl, who we are proud of. However, we have one little minor niggling problem with her. She is clearly either a liar or has hearing and vision problems. She says that teachers didn't step in when they overheard students making anti-Semitic remarks. Well, being as Mr. Clements says he knows personally of some teachers who took students to task on such comments, it apparently directly follows that Ms. Yurkiewicz is incorrect in her allegations that she personally saw teachers failing to act on such behavior. Because that's the kind of unassailable logic we would hope to expect from one of our oh-so-highly paid teachers, not to mention the audacity of a teacher stating flatly and publicly that one of his best students "got it wrong".
  2. Even if it may be true, can you blame us? You guys voted down our budget, making us subsist on the "meager" per/student cost that are the highest in the county ( and double the state average). Don't you know, anti-Semites don't cause anti-Semitism, Jews do! (Whoops, that doesn't look quite right...is that not how the saying goes?)
Shouldn't we be able to rely on our childrens' teachers to bridge these divides instead of affirming them? Obviously, as Mr. Clements is leaving his post at the end of the year, he feels that his "lame duck" status takes away any constraints he might have felt in the past when it comes to speaking his mind. And what's on his mind seems to be quite reprehensible.

40 Comments:

Anonymous shocked said...

Wow. I would hope that my children never have a teacher who says that they are wrong about something in a newspaper.

Doesnt it go against everything that a teacher should stand for? affirming their charges for their actions?

Great post.

Not that anything is being done to solve the rift, but maybe with Clemens gone and fresh blood on the board we can start to build the bridges you are talking about.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Yamamah said...

Those Orthodox Jews -- First they vote down our budget and take control of our school board. Then they hog the streets on their Sabbath. Clearly, they bring such hatred upon themselves. If they would only just move in, raise the value of our homes by 200%, and just not crawl out of their holes, we would welcome them with open arms.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous PS parent said...

> 2. Even if it may be true, can you blame us? You guys voted down our budget, making us subsist on the "meager" per/student cost that are the highest in the county ( and double the state average). Don't you know, anti-Semites don't cause anti-Semitism, Jews do! (Whoops, that doesn't look quite right...is that not how the saying goes?)

Very well put. This letter is apaling, and I'm not a private school parent. Many of us in the "public school community" don't like Clements. He is thought of as a jerk who is playing this rift for all its worth to the teachers contracts. He has done no one in our community a favor with his behavior. Except himself and the teachers. He enjoys making an issue of the us/them game. It only helps his cause.

If Ilana were my daughter, I'd make this guy pay for his disgusting behavior.

Our children may be lashing out against certain segments of the community, but we should be there to tell them that is not the right way. I know I am, when it comes to my children. I was very active during this campaign in pro-budget advocacy. I still did not like that the sugns said "the candidates for the public school", and myself and other public school parentys argued vociferously about that. I understand that anti-budget doesn't mean anti-me. But I expect people in your community to understand that pro-budget doesn't mean anti-Orthodox either in every case.

OM, I look forward to your use of this forum to make things right here in SD #15. We are all fellow humans.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The respected Yeshiva Torah temimah in Brooklyn vehemently denied that a child molester and abuser was a 1st grade rebbe.
They threatened the victims families with excommunication and who knows what else. They are still covering up the years of abuse that occured in their yeshiva.
And this statement by Clemens is shocking to you.
You need a reality check!

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

these are two completely separate issues. it is wrong for you to juxtapose them.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You clean up your own house first before you hold yourself as the model for all to follow.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Well, demographics is destiny.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for any teacher/educator to publicly rebuke a student like that...in the newspaper, is wrong. i don't care if you are orthodox, not orthodox, christian, hindu or anything.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The respected Yeshiva Torah temimah in Brooklyn vehemently denied that a child molester and abuser was a 1st grade rebbe."

I'm confused.

Does Ilana Y. have anything to do with "the respected Yeshiva"?

Has anyone condoned any school harboring a child molester?

Have you not noticed the public outrage across the orthodox community at the alleged practices of that Yeshiva?

Did you really expect make a legitimate point with this smokescreen?

11:30 AM  
Blogger OrthoKrum said...

"But we wonder: Did those who organized no votes on district budgets really think there would be no consequences of their anti-budget actions and strategies?"

Sounds to me like Clements is giving tacit approval to reprisals and "cosequences" for the bloc voting.

Q. Are the private school voters officially a bloc? Did they form a "Special Alliance" (see dictionary)?

11:31 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...


Sounds to me like Clements is giving tacit approval to reprisals and "cosequences" for the bloc voting.


I agree completely. This was an opportunity for him to decry any sort of intolerance toward specific segments of the community, on the part of both teachers and students. Instead, he used the opportunity to make a thinly weiled threat.

11:33 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Anon 11:04:

I've made my points in a post below about commenting on topic. That warning stands. I will not hesitate to delete further comments that are not relevant to the topic at hand.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'for any teacher/educator to publicly rebuke a student like that...in the newspaper, is wrong. i don't care if you are orthodox, not orthodox, christian, hindu or anything.'

Well said.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Moshe Cederbaum said...

'for any teacher/educator to publicly rebuke a student like that...in the newspaper, is wrong. i don't care if you are orthodox, not orthodox, christian, hindu or anything.

Mr. Clements, in his position as LTA rep, had one responsiblity: Obtaining the best deal possible for this district's teachers. I believe that he has done this admirably well... at great cost to the district both in terms of financial hardship and his divisiveness. I believe we will be better off, once someone else - hopefully more level-headed - takes his position.

That said,I'd like to ask, because I'm not really quite sure where I come down on this: Purely from a "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" perspective. Why is it ok for the student to go to the media, and not ok for Mr. Clements to respond in kind?

The only reason I can think of would be that we quite simply treat children differently than adults?

Any thoughts?

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with Clements responding. But there is no moral equivalent to the substance of his response

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of cries of anti-Semitism but this letter is hilarious.

He starts off by saying that there is no anti-semtism problem and ends by saying, there is a problem but its your fault.

“If these are people of good will who want to end this destructive pattern, count us in as partners in this effort. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.”

Huh, I thought the girl was mistaken and there is no problem???

12:27 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Why is it ok for the student to go to the media, and not ok for Mr. Clements to respond in kind?

It's really quite simple. It's wrong for a school teach to try to justify anti-semitism. It's wrong for a school teacher to call a student a liar without providing any basis for his claim.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it humorous. Wow what a great kid. She exercised her right to giver her opinion. Just like the garbage he wrote. Just know public school parents do not feel that way. I find the election embarrassing, the signs uncalled for and excuses made for anyone who allows anti-Semitism against anyone person should not be teaching. Using the budget as an excuse for a child who needs his mouth washed out with soap, a poor excuse. We need to teach our children that you don't blame any loss on any person or group. Steve needs to know being a sore loser is not attractive. Also, we all need to agree next year, let's let our kids draw our signs, this way we can all admire our children's work and not go through the torture of hearing it all again.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Moshe Cederbaum said...

It's really quite simple. It's wrong for a school teach to try to justify anti-semitism. It's wrong for a school teacher to call a student a liar without providing any basis for his claim.

I wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination, excusing the content or tone of the letter. I was simply wondering, regarding anon 11:23 comment, of why a public forum was not appropriate for Mr. Clements' response.

1:19 PM  
Blogger XVI (R) - NY said...

While I agree with the outcry about the methods and message of Mr. Clement, there is still soul-searching necessary. We cannot be surprisedn at a racial backlash when that particular steretype is the only side we happen to expose to the outside community.

If kids are perpetually seeing orthodox jews as being the people that cut our budgets and return to their ivory towers to ignore us for another year, than that is all they will know of us. If we do not make efforts for concessions, and show an interest in anyones community but our own, how can we expect anyone to empathize with us, and see us for anything other than what the stereotypes are?

There was an inapropriate comparison of us to Arab terrorists the other day, that is awfully crude and vulgar, but the similarity is there. We insist and demand, and we take and take. We offer nothing in return and are hostile if we dont get our way. We show no interest in sharing and grab whatever we can legally (or not) get our hands on.

Maybe Clement is wrong. His methods f standing up against a kid in the media, of defending anti-semitic comments, etc... He IS wrong. But OrthoMom... maybe it is the jews that cause anti-semitism?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Somewhat Anonymous said...

"We insist and demand, and we take and take. We offer nothing in return and are hostile if we dont get our way. We show no interest in sharing and grab whatever we can legally (or not) get our hands on"

xvi - Leaving aside the fact that this is a base slur on the entire community, I really don't see where you get this from factually. We do not take and take without offering anything in return - quite the contrary. We pay taxes like anyone else (and we have substantively contributed to the rise in local real estate prices) and we make almost no use of the school funds that we are technically entitled to enjoy. Given this, I think it is quite reasonable that we ask for what little we may legally recieve towards our children's education.

2:16 PM  
Blogger OrthoKrum said...

Looks like Krum was just a little too eager to stir up some debate....nice try. For the most part this has been an even tempered discussion on a potentially explosive issue...your "it's really quite simple" comment is unnecessary. Careful, you don't want to get censured, or possibly even deleted.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Orthokrum, your obsession with me is kind of freakish. My remark followed comments invoking Arab terrorists, Rabbi Kolko, and chilkd molestation. Yet you pick on my use of the phrase "It's really quite simple" as unnecessarily "stiring up some debate."

Weird.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debate is good. Knowledge is key. As a parent of a public school child I am embarassed by Steve Clements comments. The only saving grace is he is leaving. We as a community go over and over with no resolve. We listen to rumor and do not demand fact. Certain parents feel there children should get services that don't. That I must say is accross the board. This one said that, that one said this, but yet, for every board meeting I attend very few people are there. We blame,blame,blame. I urge all in the community to go to the ny state dept of ed, and read the non public school manual. It states the legal requirements of a district. If people are informed, perhaps those rebel rouzers will just go away.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teaching our children that it is another groups fault for there school issues is very dangerous. Decaying schools? The other night most parents went up to discuss the art director position. I did not hear one parent yell about the roof in the high school. One mother stood up and yelled at the board for not being more proactive in helping the mounting tenstions, not relaying to the community the rising class sizes, and the sucess of one of our elementry schools. No roof. We need to get our priority's straight. Racist comments will not be tolerated by any group in this community.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Fitzsimmons always claims he is there for the community. I ask all to email him with your shock on how an educator should put down a student, and rationalize racism.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Perhaps I missed something when I read it, but I only agree with your second point. I don't see a problem with a principal or teacher writing a letter denying the claims of a student - it's a she says/he says argument. I'm not sure why she deserves to be believed any more than he.

His second part, however, is pretty disgusting.

3:22 PM  
Blogger OrthoKrum said...

I guess it's your arrogance that gets me.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's one lesson to be learned from all of this....

Despite having such ineffective and narrow-minded people like Steve Clements teaching our local children, a strong community and parenting created a young lady any of us would be proud to say is our daughter.

Now let's work on making the other 6,999 children in our community at that same level. This is not about budget votes or religion. this is about fixing a problem that has been whitewashed for 2 decades.

Voting yes blindly on budgets like Clements is advocating, is a plea for bliss ignorance and a call for the status quo from some of the people who contribute to the problem.

It's time for change. A new board. A new fair but accountable contract for teachers. A thorough zero-based budget development. Crtical evaluation of all staff and administration - pushing out the waste of breath personnel we pay highly for.

It will not be easy. There will be bumps in the road. But it's the only way things will get better in the long run.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Perhaps I missed something when I read it, but I only agree with your second point. I don't see a problem with a principal or teacher writing a letter denying the claims of a student - it's a she says/he says argument. I'm not sure why she deserves to be believed any more than he.

Yes, but the first article was based on the student's eyewitness testimony, whereas the second is based on nothing moer than "it has been reported to me." Nothing to indicate the basis for those reports or even that those incidents were the same ones Ilana was talking about.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Goy Guy said...

"Why is it ok for the student to go to the media, and not ok for Mr. Clements to respond in kind?

The only reason I can think of would be that we quite simply treat children differently than adults?"

I certainly hope we treat children differently than adults. Especially when comparing a top student reporting on what she saw with her own eyes (no one can really thing she's LYING?) to a union hack like him who is one of the major instigators of the issues at hand. Good riddence to him. At least there are no kids to bother him at his new job.

Her father should punch him in the nose for writing that letter. But I imagine he's a little classier than that.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Glad to see Clements go said...

I wouldn't expect anything LESS from an overpaid Lawrence official. Clements is part of the problem with this community. And I for one am glad to see him leave.

Kelleher was another tasteless individual. I remember the big story when our public school board hired him. He gave a nasty speech in Connecticutt to the parents of his exiting district - and they booed him off the stage. What a great example he set.

Let's say so long to another wate of our money. Get lost Clements. You broke this district with your devisive behavior. And the rift you complain exists today woul never have started if you didn't turn every little issue into wars, and encourage mediocrity among the teachers. Without you, maybe the LTA can focus on education again and get the respect and support they deserve from the community.

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A student at Lawrence High school once asked:

"Why do they hate us so much?"

teacher responded: who?

student:"The orthodox"

teacher: why do you think they hate you?

student:"They keep voting down the budget"

sounds like a horrible conversation, but a hell of a good question. The students feel that you are trying to put them out on the street. You are showing your own prejudices by voting down the budget, the students feel that YOU don't think they are worthy of an education.

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's horrible about that conversation is not that the budgets are getting voted down. That teacher in your conversation never did anything to help the student understand that opposing a budget has nothing to do with hatred of others. In fact, the teacher's silence only condoned that child's hatred of others.

Way to go Lawrence teachers....keep up the effort of building the next generation of racists.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, you are incorrect there, the teacher did just THAT! The teacher attempted to explain to the child that voting the budget down wasn't only the choice of the orthodox, but that others in the district were tired of high taxes including the teacher's own relatives....the teacher went further and explained that since the area is changing in other ways that a lot of its residents are unable to vote b/c they are not registered and not able to register. The teacher doesn't blame the budget defeat on any ONE group of people, unlike the ONE group of people who blame everything on the teachers. Perhaps that one group should delve deeper into the reasons why the almighty test scores are sooo low. The teachers aren't to blame for everything. Once again...YOU CONDEMNED the teacher w/o knowing exactly what was said. I know, b/c I'm that teacher.

At least I didn't stoop to the name calling!

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a time a few years ago when 6 non-Jewish teachers signed affidavits testifying to another teacher's anti-semitic remarks. The entire faculty and staff ( save a few) stood with these 6 brave men. But let us remember that the orthodox school board members and the orthodox community turned its back and wanted nothing to do with it.

3:49 PM  
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