Cease-And-Desist Letter Sent to Oakland Schools Over Anti-Israel “Teach-In”

Teachers Union-backed program includes a reading of “P is for Palestine”
December 6, 2023
Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay

A cease-and-desist letter was sent to Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on Tuesday, demanding the school cancel Wednesday’s anti-Israel “Teach-In” scheduled to take place across the school district.

The letter, which was obtained by the Journal, was authored by The Deborah Project, a law firm providing pro bono legal services to Jewish and Israeli students who believe they have been discriminated against on campus. The Deborah Project is representing Oakland Families United Against Antisemitism, a group that includes parents of OUSD students.

The letter informs the district they expect the OUSD to “safeguard the students of this district from the biased and discriminatory material that certain members of the Oakland Educators Association have made known they will be inflicting on those students in their planned December 6 Teach-In.” The letter notes the Teach-In’s takeover, of OUSD classrooms, despite the Oakland School Board and the OUSD Superintendent’s public declaration  that the material violates School Board policy.

The letter refers to a statement OUSD Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammel made to OUSD families on Monday. Johnson-Trammel’s statement read in part: “I know that many of you are aware of the unsanctioned Teach-In planned by outside organizing in our schools this Wednesday, December 6. I want to make clear that the District does not authorize this action. Furthermore, I want to make clear that the instructional materials developed and shared by the Teach-In organizers are not aligned with the materials and guidance previously provided by our Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Sondra Aguilera. Our schools are sanctuaries for learning, and I am deeply disappointed by the harmful and divisive materials being circulated and promoted as factual.” (emphasis original)

Among the material in the Teach-In includes a YouTube video titled, “Why is Israel called an ‘apartheid’ state?” and a read-along of the book “P is for Palestine,” which includes a page states: “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, whether you are a kid or a grownup!” Additionally, a “History of Palestine and Zionism” slideshow features a slide with the question, “Since Jews experienced centuries of violence and ethnic cleansing, why are Jews in Israel doing the same thing to Palestinians today?”

Lori Lowenthal Marcus, legal director of The Deborah Project, told the Journal that the Teach-In of such material will be happening “in their classrooms, on the campuses of the schools. We don’t know how many of the teachers will do this, but a vote by the OEA [Oakland Educators Association] last night ratified the decision to go through with this.”

The Oakland Educators Association is “categorically wrong when it claims teachers have free speech rights in their classrooms. They do not,” the cease-and-desist letter continued. “The ninth circuit held in Johnson v. Poway Unified School District … that teachers do not have free speech rights in the classrooms or whenever they are acting in their official capacity. Full Stop. This case is directly binding on all public-school teachers in California and it applies the holding in Garcetti v. Ceballos … that public employees do not have free speech rights while performing their official tasks.”

The letter also argued that the planned Teach-In will also foster a hostile climate against Jewish students on campus, thus violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Deborah Project contended that the district has an “obligation to keep out of our public schools material that discriminates against Jewish children and Israeli children.” “We know — indeed, the Superintendent Johnson-Trammell has declared — that the planned Teach-In will place into the California public schools for which you are responsible curricular material that violates these laws and so discriminates against Jewish children and Israeli children, including the children of the members of Oakland Families United Against Antisemitism.” The letter continued, “If you fail to fulfill your duty to prevent this, we will hold each of you who allowed this to happen morally, politically, and legally responsible for the harm that ensues.”

Marcus told the Journal “what parents, teachers and school administrators need to understand is that public school teachers do not have the right of free speech in the classroom, or at any time while they are acting in their official capacity.”

The OUSD and OEA have not responded to the Journal’s requests for comment.

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