STREETERVILLE — Facing backlash from parents, a Chicago school decided that eighth-grade students accused of bullying a classmate for being Jewish will not be allowed to walk across the stage at their graduation Saturday, a Chicago Board of Education member said.
Jesse Ruiz, the vice president of the board, said it was the principal's decision not to let the students participate in graduation ceremonies, one that was supported by the district.
"These kinds of hurtful actions cannot and will not be tolerated at Ogden or any other public school in the district," Ruiz said.
Ruiz made the remarks during a special meeting Thursday night, called by Ogden International School's Local School Council at the school's east campus, 24 W. Walton St., which serves students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
It was the first public meeting since Lisa Wolf Clemente told the school late last month that her 14-year-old son was bullied by kids at the west campus for sixth through 12th grade, 1250 W. Erie St., who targeted him with verbal taunts for being Jewish. The students had been learning about the Holocaust at the time.
Clemente told the Sun-Times her son was bullied during lunch and Spanish class by students who showed him pictures of ovens and told him to get in.
The abuse went on for months, she said, and she at first told her son to "turn the other cheek."
The students were also accused of creating a group on the game app Clash of Clans called "Jew Incinerator," complete with a group description that included reference to putting "all Jews into an army camp" along with Nazi salutes. That's when she went to the principal on May 20 to tell him about the bullying.
Though the district has said that the school acted "immediately" to investigate what happened, Clemente and others have expressed anger that more wasn't done quickly discuss the anti-Semitic nature of the bullying.
Earlier this week, some parents also criticized the school for not giving the students involved harsher punishment.
Ruiz said the district is working on revising the student code of conduct, which helps determine reprimands for students depending on the severity of the incident. In this case, students identified as being involved in the bullying were given suspensions ranging from one to two days.
The board is also working to improve "cultural sensitivity" training to teachers and principals, he said.
The school has received attention from national Jewish media as well as the Anti-Defamation League. Since then, CPS said the principal, Joshua VanderJagt, has been working with the Anti-Defamation League to create a program for middle school students to learn the history of anti-Semitism.
The school held two private meetings with parents to discuss bullying. The next public meeting is another held by the Local School Council on Monday.
VanderJagt said CPS has also been working to organize a meeting between Clemente's son and the kids who bullied him. Clemente said she knows the families of some of the kids who taunted her son, and that one used to be his best friend.
Ruiz said the district does not condone "anti-Semitic comments or behavior," marking a rare moment that the school system has mentioned anti-Semitism in public discussions surrounding the controversy.
"I love that he said the word anti-Semitism," Clemente said. "That’s what it is. And again, we shouldn't be afraid of it. Its not a dirty word, that's just what it was and we're going to move on from it."
Clemente said that on Thursday, she saw her son begin to brighten for the first time in a long while.
"I could see him acting all goofy again, like he did before," she said.
"I literally sobbed, because it reminded me of what they took from him," she added. "It reminded me of what he used to be before they were doing this to him."
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