The student news site of New Trier High School

New Trier News

The student news site of New Trier High School

New Trier News

The student news site of New Trier High School

New Trier News

Superintendent addresses alleged cancellation of Holocaust Remembrance Day activity

Amidst community concern for how New Trier handled #WeRemember sticker campaign, Sally takes responsibility for decision
Screenshot of Board meeting video
Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally speaks at New Trier Board of Education meeting on Feb. 20

On Feb. 20, Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally addressed the New Trier High School community at the monthly Board of Education meeting about why he decided to not approve a proposed activity to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

For the past three years, the German Club and German classes have spearheaded activities, such as announcements and bulletin boards, to honor the day annually celebrated on Jan. 27. This year, those groups, with the Jewish Affinity Group, created a campaign that involved distributing stickers to each adviser room with the #WeRemember hashtag to adviseries on the Northfield and Winnetka campuses.  

We know that teens will often tell us what is on their mind, and we would have wanted advisers to think about how to handle non-Holocaust Remembrance Day related discussions that could have arisen.

— Dr. Paul Sally

When that plan was not approved, advisers then just had the choice to pick up stickers in the mailroom, and decide how they wanted to use them based on their plans. Sally not approving that activity sparked the attention of parents and other community members in early February after the circulation of two letters that made accusations of antisemitism in connection with the activity’s alleged cancellation. 

The public attention prompted Sally to use Tuesday’s board meeting to respond to the growing community concern. He said that the administration first learned about the activity the Monday before it would take place. Due to the short time given to communicate and prepare advisers for the activity, he decided to not approve the event.

“It was not the important commemoration of the victims and honoring of the survivors of the Holocaust at issue, but current events that are adjacent in many of our students’ minds,” Sally, reading from a prepared statement, said. “We know that teens will often tell us what is on their mind, and we would have wanted advisers to think about how to handle non-Holocaust Remembrance Day related discussions that could have arisen.”

Sally said that with the rise in antisemitism over the past few years and since the start of Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, Jewish families and students want the school to reflect how New Trier is educating people on antisemitism as part of its equity work. In addition, Sally said that he now understands that, without an explanation for his decision, people were hurt in the process. 

“My efforts to help our Jewish students feel like they belong, to feel like they matter at New Trier, have fallen short, and of course that matters deeply to them, and deeply to me,” Sally said. “We have met with them to apologize for how we communicated the decision, and to ensure their voices are heard in the future.”

Sally shared that he was unaware of the “enthusiasm” that Jewish students and teachers had for the sticker distribution activity. Looking back, he now sees the importance of the activity for them.   

“For them, it was a very positive way to be seen more fully at New Trier, and represented a way they could put their imprint on the day,” Sally said. 

In the future, Sally said a new culture, climate, and equity goal for New Trier’s annual plan will focus on educating the school community on how to combat antisemitism. The administration will hear input from the Jewish United Fund and local Jewish leaders to understand how to best reach that goal. 

Community members at the board meeting spoke during public comment about their view on how New Trier handled the situation. Some of the speakers were parents, students, and a representative from the League of Women Voters of Wilmette, who shared a statement from the League’s co-presidents, Kirsten Stadheim and Laurie Stadheim. 

Senior Beau McBride, a member of the Jewish Affinity Group, shared his appreciation for how New Trier has treated Jewish students through measures to limit hate speech about the Israel-Hamas war. However, he said what happened in connection to Holocaust Remembrance Day was an exception. 

McBride felt that New Trier not approving the sticker campaign violated its principle of embracing diverse communities. 

“When we tried to celebrate a holiday that is essential to the heritage of the Jewish people, the school hesitated,” McBride said. “I think that is why most of us took offense, because we didn’t think of Holocaust Remembrance Day as political, in any sense.” 

New Trier parent Tracy Wolfe shared how, since Oct. 7, Jewish students are fearful as they hear antisemitic comments every day. In a time when students need support, she said, occurrences such as limiting the recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day make them feel abandoned. In addition, she said that the decision to stop the activity was antisemitic.  

“In the event that a student asked an adviser a question likening the Holocaust to the current war, a response should have clearly been that the Holocaust and the current war are two completely different and unrelated topics,” Wolfe said. 

When public comment ended, Board President Keith Dronen thanked and let the people who spoke to the board that evening know that the board hears them and takes their comments about culture, climate, and equity work at New Trier seriously. 

“The board will continue to encourage the administration to reach out to the community for their perspective,” Dronen said. “The board will…continue its work to make ensure that all students, families, and staff feel welcome at New Trier.”

Jen Marzouk, whose children are third-generation New Trier students, is also a member of the Class of 2026 New Trier Parents’ Association. When she heard about what happened surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day, she was concerned as she and her family see New Trier as a special place but are happy about what New Trier has done since. 

“I really appreciate the willingness of the board to engage with the community and help us understand what went on,” Marzouk said to the board.

Sally said that as students today hear extreme, divisive voices that are hurtful, it is more important than ever to combat hate to achieve a culture where every student feels a sense of belonging at New Trier. 

“Now, more than ever, the biggest mistake we could make would be not to try to do our best to recognize the identity and humanity of all our students,” Sally said.

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The comment section provides a space for readers to voice their opinions. The New Trier News wants to amplify the voices of our audience, so comments will not be censored based on a difference of opinion. However, we will not accept the following forms of commentary: Racism, homophobia, or any other sort of prejudice Anything against the school policy clearly stated in the New Trier Student Handbook Violent threats or any form of harassment toward our staff and/or sources Any obscene or inappropriate language Anonymous comments will not be approved. The comments will be monitored by managing editors in consultation with our faculty advisers.
All New Trier News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *