Local News | Oak Park-River Forest High School leaders ‘punted’ when 3 teachers created an antisemitic feel at the school, a group alleges. Now, they want the state school board and the attorney general to intervene.

More than 100 people have signed a complaint with two state agencies alleging that three Oak Park-River Forest High School teachers made antisemitic statements or acted in antisemitic ways at the school, and that the school administration has done nothing about it.

The 21-page complaint, dated June 30, was sent to the Illinois Attorney General’s office and the Illinois State Board of Education. It was sent nearly a month after the 2023-2024 school year ended.

“We … turn to you to ensure that District 200 is a safe and welcoming place for Jewish students, and that the teachers who are failing to act consistent with district policies and the law are held accountable,” the stakeholders wrote in the complaint

The complainants call for ISBE and the AG’s office to “investigate the antisemitic statements and acts of the three teachers [named] as well as the wrongful acts in some cases and lack of appropriate action by D200 in others and hold each accountable.”

Spokespersons from both ISBE and the AG’s office acknowledged that each agency received the complaint. And in almost verbatim statements to Pioneer Press, they said their respective office could not comment further.

OPRFHS is the lone school of Oak Park-River Forest High School District 200, with an enrollment of more than 3,200 students.

The driving force behind the complaint is Nate Mellman, the father of a current OPRF student and two recent OPRF graduates. He told Pioneer Press it was filed because the high school administration took no action in response to complaints about the teachers.

“Many believe the district is not enforcing its own policies or following existing case law,” Mellman said. “The board has all but punted, hoping this goes away or believes this issue is somehow not a big deal. We’ve tried to work with both the administration and the board and when they failed to act we thought we needed to raise the issue to the Illinois State Board of Education and the AG’s office and ask them to please take a look at this and do their job.”

The complaint was signed by 121 people – including OPRFHS alums, school parents, Oak Park residents and more – two of whom remained anonymous. It alleges that three OPRF teachers have created a hostile antisemitic environment for Jewish students at the high school.

Pioneer Press is not disclosing the names of the teachers in this report because they have not been charged with a crime or faced any official discipline. Two named are special education teachers, with one also stated to be a local activist. The other is an English teacher.

The complaint alleges the teachers violated state statues around ISBE teacher licensure, stating the educators engaged in “unprofessional conduct as well as promoted and condoned antisemitic statements and/or acts, and as such, have failed to demonstrate the good conduct required by teachers in the State of Illinois.”

The war in Gaza that ensued following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the terror group Hamas is the backdrop of the issues raised in the complaint. The complaint cites a number of social media posts said to be made by one of the teachers over the last year. One post on X (formerly Twitter) incorrectly stated that the student who distributed a swastika onto some other students’ cell phones at an OPRF assembly in 2018 was Jewish, the complaint states.

The complaint states that school officials were notified in January of some of one teacher’s alleged statements but took no action. It also states that school board President Tom Cofsky wrote to Mellman on March 14 and said “it is not the District’s position nor responsibility to take sides or administer consequences to those who appropriately express their political beliefs.”

The complaint alleges that two of the teachers named, among other things, supervised the Middle Eastern and North African student club’s sale of T-shirts that the complainants say are antisemitic. The shirts were sold this past spring at OPRF. The front of the T-shirt had a graphic outline of the land of Israel and Palestine next to the word “Palestine.” The complaint states that graphic was antisemitic because it failed to recognize the existence of the state of Israel.

School officials approved the design of the shirts, created a web page to facilitate the sale of them and allowed the school’s online payment software to be used to process payments for the shirts, according to the complaint.

“Not only did D200 leadership assist in the t-shirt sale, but they legitimized and enabled the promotion of antisemitism amongst students and staff,” the complaint states.

Neither District 200 nor OPRFHS officials responded to Pioneer Press requests for comment on the complaints in the documents sent to the state agencies.

On April 2, one teacher in the complaint and a few other OPRF instructors wore the MENA shirts at school during the school day, according to the complaint and two students who spoke with Pioneer Press. The complaint alleges that one teacher created a hostile environment in their classroom for Jewish students by wearing the shirt while teaching.

Several other incidents and examples are listed in the complaint. One involved a poster said to have been put up near a lunchroom entrance during the schools Arab Heritage Festival that declared “Palestine will be Free.” It was removed, the complaint states, after school officials said it was not authorized.

At a public state of the school district talk in April, Superintendent Greg Johnson said that dealing with the pain and divisions created by the Gaza War has been probably the most challenging topic he and other superintendents have ever faced.

“Our job is not to take sides one way or the other,” Johnson said during the April talk. “Our job is to do everything we can to support our students, but that is so hard to do. It’s impossible to do perfectly, I would contend, and it is extraordinarily hard to do when you’re dealing with such a divisive issue.”

Bob Skolnik is a freelancer.

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