CPS investigating allegations of anti-Semitic bullying
BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Education Reporter May 29, 2014 12:53PM
Lisa Wolf Clemente, mother of 14-year-old who was bullied at Ogden International Elementary School, lamenting why CPS won't call what happened to her son anti-semitism or racism. | Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times
Updated: May 30, 2014 1:58PM
Chicago Public Schools officials say they’re investigating allegations of anti-Semitic bullying by Ogden International School eighth-grade students, suspending the ringleaders and hosting two forums for parents at the West Town school.
But the mother of the 14-year-old boy who was told to get into an oven and put on striped pajamas, as concentration camp prisoners were made to do, still was upset Thursday, saying the district isn’t doing enough to address the racism behind the bullying.
“Call it its name. They were racist, they were being anti-Semitic to my son,” said Lisa Wolf Clemente outside Ogden Thursday afternoon, hours after eighth-graders went on a field trip to the Holocaust museum in Skokie.
Afterward, “not one person addressed the correlation between the Holocaust museum and my son,” she said, adding that they missed the chance for a teachable moment.
Clemente said her son told her months ago that several kids at the west campus of the school targeted him at lunch and in Spanish class, showing him pictures of ovens and telling him to get in.
“I taught my son how to handle this situation himself,” said Clemente, who has sought support from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
She informed Ogden’s principal only two weeks ago that there was a problem, after her 8-year-old son was invited to join a team playing the Clash of Clans game; this particular team, started by 8th graders, was called “Jew Incinerator.”
The students had signed up for the online version of the game. Besides calling their team “Jew Incinerator,” they had written: “Heil! Throw Jews into ovens for a cause,” Clemente said. They also wrote: “We are a friendly group of racists with one goal — put all Jews into an army camp until disposed of.” Screenshots of the game shot showed the students concluded with “Sieg! Heil! — a Nazi salutation.
After the child’s mother began calling parents of the others, one of the ringleaders wrote on the same site: “This COC clan is being reported for bein [sic] offensive at school. We need to shut it down or we can get in trouble.”
The Sun-Times is not identifying the children because they are juveniles.
Clemente said her older son doesn’t feel safe at school, and her younger son has cried to her, too, saying, “I didn’t tell anyone I was Jewish.”
CPS spokesman Joel Hood said several eighth graders identified as ringleaders and participants have been suspended for one to three days from school for bullying a classmate who is Jewish, and for their involvement in the online game.
“Chicago Public Schools will never tolerate bullying or harassment by any student in any school,” CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett wrote in an emailed statement. “As a District we are committed to ensuring safe school environments in which every child feels secure, comfortable, and respected. The principal at Ogden International High School has worked in cooperation with the network and central office to foster a larger community dialog around cultural sensitivity and has taken the appropriate actions to ensure this is a teachable moment for our children.”
The school principal held a forum for parents Thursday afternoon. The meeting was not open to the general public and reporters who tried to enter were turned away.
Outside the meeting, grandmother Dolores Mills was among many parents confused by the robocalls and letters inviting them to the meeting without saying why it was being held.
Mills and her daughter, Imani Beard, were shocked to see images from the video game.
“They got all kinds here,” Mills said repeating what others said of the international school. “Why are they going to pick on the Jews?”
“It’s a great school, I love this school, they bring kids from all over.”
Her grandson, a sophomore, had not heard about the problem though the sixth to twelfth graders share a building.
Beard summed up the situation: “If this is an international school, it’s ironic this is an issue.”
Senior Alex Thompson-Beard had wondered why school officials suddenly began posting anti-bullying policies this week and handing out literature.
“Because they’re trying to cover something up?”
Another meeting will be held Friday afternoon at the school’s east campus. School principal Joshua D. VanderJagt accepted the Anti-Defamation league’s offer to conduct an “anti-bias” program to teach about the dangers of hate and bullying at the school as soon as next week, said Lonnie Nasatir, head of the Chicago branch.
“He wants to do this as quickly as possible,” Nasatir said. “Let’s hope this is an aberration.”