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TDSB vows to boost education on Holocaust after students give Nazi salute in class

TORONTO — Canada's largest public school board says it will provide more education on the Holocaust following a number of antisemitic incidents in schools, including one last week in which three middle-school students performed the Nazi salute in class.

A spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board says the students gave "the Heil Hitler salute" as a French teacher walked into a Grade 8 class at Valley Park Middle School on Thursday. 

Shari Schwartz-Maltz says the teacher is Jewish and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and was "very hurt, very upset, very traumatized" by the incident.

Schwartz-Maltz, who is also chair of the board's Jewish heritage committee, says there was a similar incident involving the Nazi salute at another school a few weeks ago, and the board is now seeing antisemitic graffiti in schools about twice a week. 

She says the students involved in last Thursday's incident will face "consequences" but declined to elaborate further.

Schwartz-Maltz says the board is instead focusing on ramping up its education efforts regarding antisemitism and the Holocaust, and will be taking a more proactive approach on the issue.

The TDSB has been doing programming on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Jan. 27, and bringing in additional programming when there are incidents, she said. 

The board has previously brought in a community partner to tell the story of her late father, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp as a boy, though his relatives did not, she said. That same partner will now be working with a group of others who will share similar stories, she said.

"We've been working with them on a reactive basis, like every time there's an incident, which there's a lot," Schwartz-Maltz said. "But going forward we're going to be working with them on a more proactive (basis)."

The board will also be working with organizations such as The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center to boost education on the issue, she said.

"When you drill down, you really talk to the kids, when we do investigations, we bring them in and we say, 'why did you draw that swastika?' Or 'why did you say those words?' Most of the time they have no idea, (they) just don't know," she said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory also denounced last week's incident. 

"The incident at Valley Park Middle School is as sad as it is hurtful and obviously unacceptable. It is extremely troubling to see antisemitic acts, especially among young people, happening in our community," he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2022.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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