Update: Questions raised amid student walkout for Gaza

Readers said the pro-Palestine protest march stopped at a nearby Jewish community center where young children were present.

Update: Questions raised amid student walkout for Gaza
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in North Berkeley. Google Street View

Update, May 13, 7:20 p.m. Several teachers from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School contacted The Scanner after publication to share additional context about Friday's student walkout and related whiteboard messages.

The teachers said multiple students had actually written the messages, one of which had falsely targeted a girl who had joined the walkout.

The teachers said the message had drawn a false conclusion about the student and was not itself espousing antisemitism.

The Scanner did contact the King principal and BUSD for comment before publication on Friday and none of the above information was relayed.

The teachers also said that the students who joined the walkout had gone on to UC Berkeley where they participated in the peaceful protest, despite having encountered harassment along the way.

The group intentionally changed its route on its way back from Cal and did not go by the JCC again, one teacher said.

The headline of this story has been changed in light of the additional context shared by the teachers. The story that follows is otherwise unchanged, aside from clarifying that multiple people reportedly wrote the whiteboard messages.

Original story: Some Berkeley parents and community members were reeling Friday amid a new report of antisemitic graffiti at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

Readers also asked The Scanner about a pro-Palestine walkout march from King that focused its attention on a nearby Jewish community center where young children were present, prompting security concerns.

The Berkeley Unified School District said it is investigating the graffiti report, in which people scrawled, "[Name redacted] hates Jews" as well as "We stand with [name redacted]" next to a Jewish star on a classroom whiteboard.

A photograph of that message that has been shared among parents and other community members was also provided to Aipsasiamedia along with concerns about the message.

Also on Friday, The Scanner got multiple reports about a walkout march from King middle school that stopped to protest outside the Berkeley branch of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay.

The protest group was made up of an estimated 60 or more middle school students who were chanting with a bullhorn and accompanied by school administrators, parents said.

When the group stopped for several minutes to protest outside the JCC, which is about a half-mile from the King campus, JCC security went outside to investigate and Berkeley police were also called.

Several people who spoke to The Scanner on Friday asked to remain anonymous due to increasing antisemitism and tension in Berkeley since Oct. 7.

One local resident said he did not think it was appropriate to have a political protest outside an apolitical Jewish organization that is primarily focused on serving preschool students and seniors.

Another woman who saw the demonstration shared a different view. She described it as a "peaceful rambunctious group for teens/preteens [that] was marching up Rose with Free Palestine banners and adults keeping watch over them, including a couple of women in traditional conservative Muslim dress."

She said she had seen one confrontation between a community member and the group when it was near the JCC.

"It made me really sad to see because our community members are feeling so unsafe, right or wrong, that it feels like they are going to war with each other," she said. "The tradition of youth marching for human rights and international causes has been a rich one in Berkeley since long before my marches about the first Gulf War, Rodney King and others in the 90s."

One BUSD parent said the protest reports were concerning in part because the district had promised parents on Thursday, by email, that no school staff would accompany the student march.

In the email, school leadership said students might have a walkout Friday, and that they might march to UC Berkeley during the event.

"Site and district staff will monitor students at the school site, but we will not have the capacity to walk with students to UC Berkeley or monitor their activity while on the university campus where there will be other activities happening," King Principal Michael Tison Yee told parents in the email Thursday.

Similar emails went out to parents from principals at other Berkeley middle schools as well, the BUSD parent said.

For unknown reasons, King reversed course Friday.

"Although this was not a district sanctioned event, our administration team made a decision to accompany the students to monitor for safety," BUSD spokeswoman Trish Mcdermott told The Scanner by email in response to an inquiry about Friday's events.

The BUSD parent said she and others had been relieved Thursday to hear that school staff would not be there to sanction any protest activity or appear to take sides.

"When I found out there were two vice principals with [the King students], that changed everything," she said. "If the school is going to have people present, they have to be responsible for what happens."

That was particularly true, she said, when a Berkeley student protest months earlier, which also included school staff, had seen students chanting in support of violence against Jews.

"It's very upsetting that the district can't seem to figure out how to manage these situations appropriately," she said.

Friday's reports come at a difficult time for the Berkeley Unified School District, whose superintendent, Enikia Ford Morthel, told federal lawmakers this week that "antisemitism is not pervasive" in the district.

Ford Morthel said there had been nine formal antisemitism complaints to BUSD since Oct. 7, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Also this week, EdSource reported that the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education plans to investigate allegations that BUSD "failed to respond properly to rising incidents of antisemitism in its schools."

That includes a complaint by two Jewish civil rights organizations "urging an investigation into the 'virulent wave of antisemitism' aimed at Israeli and Jewish students" in Berkeley Unified, EdSource reported.

The district is facing mounting criticism over its handling of the conflict.

This week, the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed their own complaint against BUSD with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Their 11-page complaint includes allegations of "severe and pervasive racism" toward Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students and staff.

Read their full complaint.

This story was updated shortly after publication to include additional context.