Mercer Island School District Superintendent Fred Rundle has notified the school community about antisemitic terms recently made by students at Islander Middle School.
Rundle addressed the situation at the Oct. 27 school board meeting and followed up with a lengthy online letter posted on the school district website on Oct. 28. He noted in the letter that antisemitic comments were directed from one student to another on one day, and then a similar situation occurred later in the week.
After a parent notified middle school administrators about one incident, co-principal MaryJo Budzius investigated the scenario and confirmed that it happened, wrote Rundle, who later learned about the second occurrence from Budzius. He wrote that they quickly gathered information and communicated with the students who were affected by the comment in the classroom and their families.
Rundle said that Budzius also “reached out directly to the two families of the students believed to be directly involved.” Additionally, the superintendent contacted the Mercer Island Stroum Jewish Community Center, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Holocaust Center for Humanity to inform them of the situation and ask for guidance.
“We strive to ensure that all students have a deep sense of belonging in our schools and feel seen, heard, and safe. Antisemitism aims to destruct this mission, but we will neither stand idle nor tolerate this or any form of hate,” wrote Rundle, noting that the school district aims to follow the ADL toolkit regarding antisemitism of being ready, investigating, communicating and educating the public to the best of its ability.
At the school board meeting, Rundle said the district is diligent about adhering to the ADL’s steps, but there’s always room for improvement.
“I am disappointed that it happened in our schools, but we’ll use it as an opportunity to get better,” he said in the video, adding that teachers and a Youth and Family Services counselor will be supporting students impacted by the situation.
Rundle added that the ADL will host and livestream its Never is Now summit on antisemitism and hate on Nov. 10. For more information, visit https://www.adl.org/take-action/attend-event.
He also noted that the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) drama department will perform its winter play, “And a Child Shall Lead,” in early February. The play is a true story of strength, fear, hope, resilience and human connection that focuses on a group of children trapped in Terezin, which was a Nazi-created “Jewish city” and way station before the death camps, according to the Playscripts site. Drama instructor Daniela Melgar will also host a student-led panel focused on growing up Jewish in Seattle.
In 2021, Benson Wong, who was Mercer Island mayor at the time, issued a proclamation regarding Mercer Island’s rejection of antisemitism and hate crimes against those of the Jewish faith.
Also last year, MIHS students Devon Benaroya, Mimi Hartman and Mia LoBosco led the school’s Holocaust Education Committee in taking a stand against antisemitism by participating in the Worldwide Daffodil Project with Island Park Elementary School fifth-graders. By being upstanders, Benaroya said people can be resilient, just like the daffodils they planted outside the school as part of the project.
Earlier that year, MIHS students Bella Hartman and Samantha Wampold were upset about the antisemitism they witnessed in their community and reached out to Holocaust survivors and invited them to speak to freshmen and sophomore students during the virtual Islander Hour.