Group: Anti-Semitic incidents on the rise in Wisconsin schools

Is discrimination on the rise in Wisconsin?

Every year a local organization "takes the temperature" of the community by tracking anti-Semitic incidents. The most troubling aspect is that there is more of it in the classroom setting.

That's something that doesn't surprise one local family. They say their children were targeted because of their religion.

A new report shows these kids were not alone. According to the group tracking the numbers, they're seeing more of this among high school students.

"I think that things happened on a regular basis for a very long time."

Two local parents wanted to share their story but not their identity. They told TODAY'S TMJ4 anti-Semitic incidents were happening at their kids' school for a very long time.

"We got notice of it as things escalated."

The couple said their children were bullied at a Milwaukee area high school because they're Jewish. They don't want to name the suburban high school, but feel their children have been through enough. 

"That's my big fear, that they're going to go through life thinking it's something they need to hide. You know that shouldn't be. It just shouldn't be."

They said "No Jews allowed" was written in permanent marker on a locker, there was name calling, a swastika and one incident that shocked them the most. 

"The teacher allowed a discussion on the positive merits of killing all the Jews in an open classroom while my children were in that class."

This family's experience just one of the reported incidents of anti-Semitism in Wisconsin tracked every year by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

"If we don't shine a light on it it will grow," Director Elana Kahn said.

Kahn views the audit as an opportunity for others to stand up for anyone being targeted. 

"We want to create a culture in which people realize that it's their responsibility to call out bigotry whenever they hear it," she said.

The most distressing aspect for those who work on the audit every year is what's happening in schools.

"These kids, sometimes they don't tell their parents right away or they don't tell their schools right away, and they carry this burden alone," said Ann Jacobs, who is part of the JCRC's Constitutional Law Task Force.  

If asked, the JCRC will get involved, like it did with an incident at UW-Milwaukee when an instructor denied and minimized the Holocaust to a student.

The university released a statement last week calling it "one isolated discussion that happened outside the classroom." UWM says it's addressed the issue with the instructor, who is still teaching.

The parents TODAY'S TMJ4 spoke with said their kids' high school never really stepped in, and call the reaction "somewhat apathetic."  

Their children are now in different schools. Until now, this family has never shared the story publicly, but they hope it helps other parents of kids being targeted because of their race or religion.

"Let's help people figure out what to do. Whether it be schools or parents or kids or classmates. Everybody. We're all in this together."

The JCRC independently confirms each reported incident.

There is also a rigorous review process for the final audit. The council is still working with the school district reported by the local family.

There's discussion about holding programs this spring and the JCRC said it hopes there will be long-term curricular changes so "all students feel safe and supported at school."

You can report anti-semitic incidents to the JCRC online.  All reports are strictly confidential. 

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