NATIONAL NEWS

Michigan public school district’s Mideast cease-fire resolution stokes controversy

Jan 17, 2024, 2:40 PM

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A public school district in Michigan is considering a resolution Wednesday calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war while also encouraging its teachers to discuss the conflict in its classrooms.

The resolution before the Ann Arbor Public Schools board appears to be among the first times that a public school system in the United States has made such a statement on the international conflict.

The meeting in Ann Arbor, which is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Detroit, is symbolic of the rising tensions seen across the nation in response to the war in Gaza, which is now entering its fourth month following a deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.

The conflict has divided college campuses, where long-simmering tensions are occasionally erupting in violence and shattering the sense of safety that makes colleges hubs of free discourse. Dozens of U.S. cities, including Ann Arbor, have approved cease-fire resolutions that have no legal authority but reflect the pressure on local governments to speak up on the Israel-Hamas war,

The resolution in Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and sizable Jewish and Arab-American populations, is one of the first times that a public school system in Michigan would make such a statement, said Don Wotruba, executive director at Michigan Association of School Boards.

“What they’re thinking about doing would be pretty rare, if not the first time. Particularly as it’s related to a more international situation,” Wotruba said before the scheduled vote.

The district “expresses support for a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel,” according to the resolution proposed, and “encourages educators within the Ann Arbor School District to facilitate informed and respectful dialogue about the conflict.”

Some parents in the district, which holds nearly 17,000 students, have expressed outrage about the resolution, and a petition opposing it collected nearly 2,000 signatures. The petition said that the issue has taken resources away from other important matters such as hiring a new superintendent, which the district is without.

Other schools across the country have contemplated similar resolutions. In California, the Oakland Unified School District has considered a resolution calling for a cease-fire and release of hostages in Israel and Palestine, but has yet to pass it.

Wotruba, who leads the state’s school board association, said that while the board has the power to make any statement as an elected body, it’s uncommon for a resolution to not be “directly related to education.”

Ann Arbor has long been known for its progressive politics, but the city and its university has found itself divided over the Gaza conflict beyond the confines of its public schools.

Nearly 6,500 Jewish students attend the University of Michigan, a total of 15% of its entire student population, according to the University of Michigan Hillel. A significant number of Arab American students also attend the university, which is near one of the largest Muslim populations in the nation.

In December, University of Michigan President Santa Ono barred students from voting on two resolutions related to the Israel-Hamas war, calling them “controversial and divisive.” The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations accused the university of suppressing free speech at the time.

“The proposed resolutions have done more to stoke fear, anger and animosity on our campus than they would ever accomplish as recommendations to the university,” Ono said in an online post at the time.

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Michigan public school district’s Mideast cease-fire resolution stokes controversy