Hoping to address community concerns after a viral Nazi-themed dance proposal and anti-semitic rap video involving Minnetonka High School students prompted outrage in late-January, Minnetonka administrators have been meeting with members of the Jewish community and working to provide more opportunities for Holocaust education.
As part of the outreach efforts, Minnetonka High School Principal Jeffery Erickson met with the school’s Jewish Student Union at a meeting on Jan. 23. Also present were various parents, and Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the JCRC.
“I hope that this meeting was more than just a way for the school to check off that they’ve heard the opinions of the Jews,” said one Minnetonka Jewish student present at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The student saw Erickson’s attendance at the meeting as a sign that the school is serious about grappling with hate speech at Minnetonka. Nonetheless, they hope that “Mr. Erickson and the school board will understand that this incident wasn’t a one-time thing, but the culmination of a pattern of disrespect towards Jews at Minnetonka.”
Topics discussed in the meeting ranged from students’ varying experiences with Holocaust education at Minnetonka, to a conversation around anti-semitism in the school system and the merits of reporting student hate speech to administration. Many students don’t trust that reporting hate speech will reduce it.
“During the meeting, one student brought up up that, three days prior to the leaking of the [dance proposal], a kid made a Jew joke towards her about how Jews should go in the oven,” the student said. “She reported the incident and it was addressed by the school in a quiet matter.
“It’s just disappointing that at that time the school didn’t realize that anti-Semitism is an issue at our school, and it took such a widespread incident for Minnetonka to even consider rethinking its Holocaust education and addressing this type of behavior.”
A recurring theme in the meeting was the lack of diversity at Minnetonka, whose population is overwhelmingly white, Christian, and heterosexual. The implication is that without diversity in the student body, a level of intolerance is to be expected in the school system.
Erickson declined to answer questions about how the two students involved in the anti-semitic acts were punished by the school. There are multiple unconfirmed reports that both students have been expelled, and it is unclear how Minnetonka plans to deal with other students who were present at the Nazi-themed dance proposal.
Frustrated with the meeting, another Minnetonka Jewish student who attended said that “we did not reach any solution. We did not hear in concrete terms what the school is doing…we have no ongoing dialogue with the principal about that.”
The student added that the “overall feeling in the community is that people are just tired.” The viral incidents caught Minnetonka during final exams at the end of a semester, when most students were already exhausted and only able to focus on school, the student said.
While Minnetonka is working with the JCRC to create new opportunities to teach about the Holocaust, Michael Berenbaum, the former director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, spoke at the high school last week after the severe cold delayed the event.
“The JCRC continues to work closely with the Jewish students and families at Minnetonka High School regarding recent anti-Semitic incidents at the high school,” Steve Hunegs, executive director of the JCRC, said in a statement.
“We want to ensure that Minnetonka Schools are a safe and welcoming environment for Jewish students and their families. The JCRC is working with Minnetonka High School Principal Jeff Erickson and Minnetonka Superintendent Dennis Peterson to provide assistance and education about the Holocaust and contemporary anti-Semitism to build a welcoming environment for all students. We thank Principal Erickson and Superintendent Peterson for working with the JCRC on this important matter.”