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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), a school division in Northern Virginia, has been sharply criticized for allegedly suspending an Asian-American student who exposed antisemitism at his high school.

School officials accused a student at Langley High School of leaking to the public a photograph of other students drawing and holding for display a US flag in which its stars were replaced with 25 swastikas and the words “Free Palestine” were written in between the stripes, the Fairfax County Times reported. The image had been drawn during a meeting of the Muslim Students Association.

The image was shared across the school, as anti-Israel students staged a “walkout” earlier this month, carrying another sign with swastikas on it and chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a slogan widely interpreted to be a call for the destruction of Israel, which is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Langley school administrators reportedly suspended two students: the Muslim student who drew the swastikas on the US flag and an Asian-American student whom school officials said had publicized the photo that was widely circulated on social media.

Parents and local leaders expressed outrage at the school for disciplining a student for reporting antisemitism, arguing it will deter others from coming forward to expose such bigotry. On Friday, parents held a demonstration outside FCPS’s administrative building in Falls Church, Virginia, to protest both the student’s suspension and what they described as unheeded concerns about rising antisemitism in FCPS schools going back several years.

“What really has upset me about this is that the only way that they can prove that there is something is to take a picture, and then the student got suspended for taking a picture,” one parent of a student attending Langley High School told a local CBS affiliate covering the protest. “There’s a history of trying to silence or not allowing these images to come to fruition to show that we have a problem here.

FCPS has denied suspending the student for exposing an act of antisemitism.

“No student at Langley High School was suspended for reporting an incident of antisemitism to school administrators,” FCPS superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid told WUSA. “We will continue to denounce all acts of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hatred in any form.”

Speaking to WUSA9, Eric Rozenman, a Jewish activist and writer, alleged that the country can plausibly deny suspending a student for reporting antisemitism because its student code of conduct is a mammoth document comprising vague rules and regulations, many of which can be cited as sufficient cause for sending a student home.

“They can make that claim because they have a long list of bureaucratic regulations in the student handbook about what is and isn’t permitted,” Rozenman said, explaining that the incident is an example of the FCPS’ allegedly insufficient approach to addressing antisemitism, an issue that is currently being probed by the federal government.

In Nov. 2022, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched an investigation into a complaint, filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), alleging that Jewish students in the county continually face harassment and a hostile learning environment. Chants of “Heil Hitler,” swastika graffiti, and scheduling of important tests on Jewish holidays are some of the indignities Jewish students have endured without recourse to school officials, the complaint said.

The complaint also alleged that antisemites work for the school board, hampering FCPS’s ability to confront the scope of the problem and enact meaningful reforms. In May 2021, during Israel’s last conflict with Hamas, FCPS official Abrar Omeish tweeted, “Israel kills Palestinians & desecrates the Holy Land…apartheid & colonization were wrong yesterday and will be today, here and there.”

“We want [FCPS] to be able to recognize what is antisemitic and anti-Jewish in the first place,” Rozenman said during Friday’s demonstration. “Take it just as seriously as they would take something that was anti-Black, anti-gay, or anti-Muslim. This is the thing they’re not doing. They can’t recognize it or don’t want to act.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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