Michigan’s Ann Arbor School Board waded into international politics on Thursday, approving a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Israel over widespread opposition.
Despite a petition from 1,800 calling on the board to withdraw the resolution and hours of public comment both for and against, board members voted 4-1, with two members abstaining, to call for a bilateral ceasefire in the ongoing conflict.
Parents, including Abby Rosenbaum, told the board they believed the inappropriate effort to take a stance on the international conflict will do little to nothing to advance the district’s mission, MLive reports.
“Why is it this particular conflict that you’ve chosen to amplify?” Rosenbaum said. “Taking a position on international conflicts is simply out of bounds for a local school board, and I see this as nothing more than a divisive distraction from the important work of educating our kids.”
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The resolution was initially introduced by trustee Ernesto Querijero last month, with a vote delayed until Jan. 17. It was amended to support a “bilateral” ceasefire in both Gaza and Israel, the release of hostages, and to call for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, according to the news site.
It was further tweaked to state the 17,000 student district “encourages educators within the Ann Arbor School District to facilitate informed and respectful dialogue about the conflict.”
“This resolution does not help advance the quality of life of one single child in this district,” parent Daniel Sorkin told the board, according to The Times of Israel.
The community petition made a similar argument.
“While we all mourn the innocent lives lost in the current Middle East crisis along with all innocent lives lost in the numerous humanitarian crises that plague our imperfect world, the Board is not the appropriate forum for addressing these international and humanitarian crises,” it read.
“It sets an unreasonable expectation that the Board will weigh in on innumerable geopolitical, international and humanitarian crises for which (Ann Arbor Public Schools) has no direct influence or control,” the petition continued. “It could disenfranchise and marginalize the many other Ann Arbor constituents deeply affected by global crises for which the Board chooses not to pass a resolution.”
Querijero said before voting in favor that he agreed “that passing or not passing this motion isn’t going to do a whole lot for the folks over there,” but argued “it will do a whole lot for the people here.”
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“That’s the whole point of it being a local, community issue,” he said, according to MLive. “I don’t think all of these folks would be out here today if they didn’t think it was a local issue.”
Trustee Krystle DuPree also acknowledged the district’s “lose-lose situation” with the resolution before casting her vote to approve it.
“No matter what choice we make, it will make a part of our community feel unheard, dismissed and alienated,” she said.
Trustee Susan Baskett, the only vote against the resolution, questioned the impact it would have on teachers in the district.
“Is this resolution forcing our educators into positions of harm?” she asked. “What if a teacher does not want to hold a discussion on this topic for whatever reason?”
Local religious leaders and teachers in the district suggested the resolution would cause issues in the classroom.
Temple of Beth Emeth Rabbi Josh Whinston argued “our teachers are not equipped right now – our administrators are not equipped right now to have these conversations.
“They’re not experts on the situation,” he said. “They haven’t been trained in how to engage students in civil conversations around these issues.”
Jewish middle school science teacher Jennie Allen said including wording on how teachers will approach the conflict is a “very risky idea.”
“There’s actually nothing in the resolution that calls for any kind of training or education of staff,” Allen said. “Your average staff member is not going to be well-versed in this conflict. I like to think that our classrooms are safe spaces for all kids, but throwing something like this out there, without training of any of the staff on how to facilitate these conversations – that’s going to result in unintentional missteps.”
The Ann Arbor resolution follows others in school districts across the country in the months since Hamas attacked Israel, killed thousands, and took hundreds as hostages on Oct. 7.
Community outrage forced the Oakland Unified School District in November to ditch a resolution calling for a ceasefire and encouraging teachers to “read and learn about the region” to help students understand “the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” CITC reports.
The Oakland resolution followed a statement from the district’s teachers union calling for an “end to the occupation of Palestine” a ceasefire, blaming the conflict on Israel’s “apartheid” government. The union later retracted the statement amid a backlash from Jewish parents.