School principal stepping down after anti-Semitic bullying incid - FOX 13 News

School principal stepping down after anti-Semitic bullying incident

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Principal Joshua VanderJagt of Ogden International School has asked to be reassigned after an incident arose in recent months involving anti-Semetic bullying between students at the school.

"Mr. VanderJagt has asked to be reassigned within the District and I have granted this request," Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement released Friday. "I agree with Mr. VanderJagt that the students, parents and the school community will be best served by a new principal of their choosing."

Anti-Semitic bullying against an eighth-grader by his classmates, and the district’s response, which some parents called insufficient, caused a firestorm at the North Side school.

The 14-year-old, who is Jewish and attends the west campus for sixth to 12th grades at 1250 W. Erie, told his mother, Lisa Wolf Clemente, seven months ago that kids told him to put on striped pajamas and get into an oven. Clemente said she told him to handle it himself.

But then, on May 20, she went to VanderJagt after the teen’s 8-year-old brother was invited to an online video game called Clash of Clans; several Ogden students had teamed up as “Jew Incinerator,” calling it “a friendly group of racists with one goal — put all Jews into an army camp until disposed of.”

When the incident first came to light, Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz said that Chicago Public Schools does not condone anti-Semitism. It was the first time a Chicago schools official had used that term to describe the incident.

“My family is Jewish, so I may view it differently. I would take great offense to those words if they were directed to my sons,” Ruiz had told reporters.

Clemente, who sought help from the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said her children didn’t feel safe at school.

The school had sent two letters to parents, but the first on May 23 only advised parents to talk to their children about online behavior, and the second didn’t mention anti-Semitism, said Clemente’s friend and fellow Ogden parent Jory Strosberg.

An online petition also circulated calling for the VanderJagt’s resignation.

VanderJagt had previously said he should have met with Clemente’s son sooner. But the first-time principal at the time defended his actions, saying they were taken with the help of CPS officials to ensure all students’ safety.

Three students were suspended for one day out of school, according to CPS, with two of them serving another day’s suspension in school by writing reflection papers and apology letters to the victim’s family. The students were also barred from participating in graduation ceremonies.

"VanderJagt's highest priority is a safe learning environment that allows students to focus on their studies," Byrd-Bennett continued in the release. "He recognized that his continued leadership of the school would be a distraction and prolong the healing process for the school community."

Byrd-Bennett said she will appoint an interim leader to ensure a smooth transition to the coming school year and serve until the school's Local School Council decides on a permanent replacement.

As a result of the incident, CPS revised its student code of conduct and planned to launch a “multifaceted campaign” to raise awareness and provide training to principals and teachers.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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