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Alumni Say Broward's Private Schools Must Confront Racism

American Heritage School in Plantation
American Heritage School in Plantation
Screenshot via Google Maps

Amid nationwide protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis, many Broward County private schools issued statements condemning racism and pledging support for the Black community.

American Heritage School, which has locations in Plantation and Delray Beach, stated in a Facebook post that it "does not tolerate racism and stands in solidarity with our students, family, staff, and faculty of color against acts of racism, prejudice, bigotry or hatred."

NSU University School, a Davie prep school affiliated with Nova Southeastern University, vowed that it "must be actively engaged in living and promoting our Diversity and Inclusion Statement."

And the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie noted that "the Jewish people have always stood against social injustice."

But on social media, the posts have been met with resistance from alumni who say the statements failed to adequately address the schools' responsibility to confront racism. In response, groups of graduates have issued their own letters filled with demands to their alma maters, most of which are predominantly white.

In the case of American Heritage School, 2012 graduate Abe Evans tells New Times he began to draft a letter to administrators after being "severely disappointed" by the school's public message.

"Their statement came seemingly in response to the protests over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black people across this country, but failed to declare that Black lives matter or outline tangible steps American Heritage can take to better support the Black students, families, faculty, and staff in the AHS community," Evans says.

As Evans' idea to write a response began making the rounds among alumni, 2017 graduate Chelsea Sinclair reached out, hoping to incorporate her experiences as a former Black student. Evans and Sinclair co-authored the letter, which faults Heritage for failing to mention anti-racism proposals the school could institute. Dozens of other Black students and alumni also contributed to the messaging.

The resulting missive, which has now been signed by nearly 800 students and alumni, requests that the school "publicly declare that Black Lives Matter and denounce police brutality; commit to equity by admitting more Black students for academic and need-based scholarships; hire, support, and promote more Black faculty and staff, not as support staff but as teachers, administrators, department heads, and deans; and require lessons on systemic racism and Black history in the curriculum by incorporating more Black authors."

The letter adds that the school must reach out to help those "who live near American Heritage campuses but do not benefit from its resources."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2018 Plantation was 24 percent Black, while Delray Beach was 31 percent Black. The American Heritage student body was only 10 percent Black during the 2017-18 school year.

The school responded to the letter on its website, stating that Black lives matter, committing to continue supporting various organizations that benefit minorities, and proposing a discussion with alumni. Evans says he is working with alumni from the school's Delray campus to create a town-hall event to institute changes at both locations. 

A similar reckoning is taking place in Davie at NSU University School, commonly referred to as U-School. (Disclosure: The author of this story, Naomi Feinstein, is an alumna of NSU University School.)

After a letter signed by Head of School William Kopas was published to the NSU University School Alumni Facebook page denouncing systemic racism, alumni requested specifics about how the school planned to take action in the classroom and change the curriculum to educate students about racial inequality. 

"What is the administration actually doing that is actionable moving forward? Is the school donating money and/or resources to organizations right now?" graduate Hayley Brooks commented. "'Promoting a 'diversity and inclusion statement' is a completely empty phrase and lacks any sort of specificity or action item."

In response, Robyn Kaiyal, the school's associate head of academic affairs, offered to meet with alumni to outline how the school plans to incorporate more teaching about racial and social injustice, introduce anti-bias training, and diversify its student population.

"The message is clear: As a private-school community, we need to focus on this country's centuries-old systemic oppression of Black people and acknowledge our role in it and our responsibility to help fix it," Kaiyal wrote. "I would love to find ways in which you can actively participate and collaborate in continuing the journey with us to affect change. I am excited to start this dialogue."

Kaiyal confirmed to New Times the administration is actively meeting with alumni to address diversity and inclusion with students, faculty, and staff this school year.

American Heritage and U-School have no religious affiliation. The conversations on race at Broward's faith-based private schools have been slightly different. At Cardinal Gibbons and St. Thomas Aquinas, both of which are Catholic schools, administrators reposted words from seven chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling for church members to stand up in the face of racism and social injustice.

David Posnack Jewish Day School composed its own statement, saying the school "will continue to ensure that our students are taught an important foundational principle of what it means to be Jewish — performing acts of loving-kindness towards others despite any of our differences."

Jakob Levin, a 2018 Posnack graduate, says the school's letter did not go far enough.

"What really struck me about the statement was there was virtually no mention of the question of race," Levin tells New Times. "They use racism at the end when talking about it as an example of forms of injustices but not as actually addressing the issue straightforwardly."

The school's statement prompted a written response signed by around 200 alumni. The signees demand more from Posnack, such as stating that Black lives matter, naming the individuals killed by police, diversifying the school's curriculum to include books written by Black authors, and establishing a reporting system and code of conduct regarding acts of discrimination.

"Your recent letter to the community claims that if we all remembered that the 'image of God' exists in each person on this planet, racism would be no more," the letter reads in part. "If you cannot name anti-Black racism and explicitly write that Black life, Jewish or not, matters, how can the Posnack community ever acknowledge historical and contemporary realities to begin the process of unlearning and dismantling racism?"

Levin says he believes the Jewish community, as a victim of genocide, has the responsibility to speak up for Black lives and against systemic acts of racism. He feels this is an opportunity for the school to lead the charge within the greater Jewish community in tackling bias and racism. 

"I don't think there are any alumni out here accusing the school of intentionally doing any of these things, but I think they are products of the larger issues of this country — just across the board, the educational system has failed in tackling the issue of antiracism and anti-prejudice," Levin says. "I think as a school, as a shining star in the South Florida community, we have the opportunity to not only make a statement but push the conversation forward for other Jewish communities."

With many proposals in mind, Levin reached out to members of the school administration to engage in a dialogue about racism. He says he has yet to hear back from anyone.

Reached by New Times, the school's board said Posnack stands firmly against racism.

"Posnack Jewish Day School's mission stands for equality and against all forms of racial injustice and racism of any kind," the school said in a statement.

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