VIDEO/PHOTOS: Concern over ‘kick a Jew day’ dominates Collier School Board meeting

Video from NBC-2

— The punishment didn’t fit the crime.

Lessons need to be learned.

One by one, members of the community stood up at the Collier County School Board meeting Thursday to deliver similar sentiments about what has been called “kick a Jew day.”

It was the first time they could address the School Board and members of the district’s staff since the Nov. 19 incident at North Naples Middle School drew national attention and public scorn.

Susan Shechter Daugherty, the executive director of Temple Shalom and the mother of two North Naples Middle School students, said her children were approached several times about being kicked, but they were not kicked. She thanked Principal Margaret Jackson for her swift response.

“My only concern was the consequence. ... To some, it is not a consequence at all,” she said. “I don’t believe this is an upsurge in anti-Semitism. But I think there is a quiet lack of tolerance for difference.”

More than 10 people spoke, some of whom agreed with Daugherty that more should be done to discipline the 10 students who received one day, in-school suspensions for taking part in the incident.

Stuart Zager, who is Jewish, said he was concerned when he heard about what had happened. Though he doesn’t know the students in question or their families, he said he believes seventh-graders can sometimes do things they regret.

Zager said he thought the students should visit the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida and that they should have to write a report about how the experience has affected them.

“I would like to see a positive come out of this, not a negative,” he said.

The incident came to light Nov. 19 when a North Naples Middle School student told a dean she was kicked and said it was because it was “kick a Jew day.”

School officials conducted an investigation and punished 10 students for kicking other students. Superintendent Dennis Thompson has said the incident, which has led to an overwhelming response from the public, was not spawned by religious intolerance. Instead, he said, it was inspired by an episode of the cartoon show “South Park” and the social networking site Facebook.

“It wasn’t ‘kick a Jew day.’ It was a ‘kick a fill-in-the-blank day,’” Thompson told the Daily News last week. “Many of the kids who kicked other students kicked someone they didn’t like or someone who is different.”

Though one girl complained that she was kicked because she was Jewish, others who were kicked on Nov. 19 became victims for other reasons, Thompson said, adding that two of the students who participated in the kicking incidents were Jewish.

In addition to the suspensions, the parents of the 10 students were called and conferences with the parents followed the phone calls, according to District Spokesman Joe Landon.

Parents of the students who were kicked were also notified of what happened, Landon said.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo requested that the item be added as a discussion to the board’s agenda after speaking with parents, community leaders and individuals from around the country.

Board member Richard Calabrese reiterated Thursday that he believes the incident was “a hate crime.”

Calabrese said he does not believe a one day in-school suspension is punishment enough. He said he believes the students responsible should have to visit the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida and read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” He said the students should also have to write a paper about what they have learned.

But Board member Steve Donovan said it is not the board’s job to tell the school how to handle the issue.

“We may not agree. We may think the students needed to be suspended for a few more days. But, I don’t micromanage the schools,” he said. “It is their job to decide what punishment is appropriate.”

Since the incident, the school has focused the first 20 minutes of each day on character traits, beginning with respect and kindness. Homeroom teachers speak with the students about these traits and focus on bullying prevention. Videos on the topic will be sought out and used as part of the training. The training will continue until further notice, Landon said.

Temple Shalom Rabbi James Perman told the School Board children in his congregation were singled out but he does not believe there was an anti-Semitic undertone to the incident.

“The whole concept is far more stupid than evil,” he said. “The events of Nov. 19 reveal a problem that is endemic to our community and beyond.”

Perman said the students’ behavior was grounded in stupidity and ignorance and said schools are sometimes the only place to turn when behavior needs to be corrected.

Board Vice Chairwoman Julie Sprague expressed her sadness over the incident.

“When I was a teacher, I always tried to teach tolerance and model tolerance,” she said.

Sprague suggested that the board consider the reinstatement of the district’s diversity committee. She also advocated educating the middle school students on the dangers of social networking.

The board voted 4 to 1 to reinstate the diversity community. Donovan dissented.

“As our world becomes more ‘flat’ and the Internet prompts intensely increasing interconnectedness, we all know we must daily remind ourselves to strive to cherish and strengthen our tolerant community character,” wrote Michael Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. “However, we need not simply be tolerant of others. We surely must be, and also we need to teach our children to be, respectful and accepting of everyone.”

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Click here to read archive of live chat with readers about "Kick a Jew" day

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