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Alabama School District Apologizes Amid Controversy Over Nazi-Style Salute Performed in Classroom

A screenshot from the Jan. 18 salute incident at Mountain Brook High School, in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

February 14, 2022

An Alabama school district has issued an apology after controversy erupted over a complaint filed by a Jewish high school student about a Nazi-style salute a teacher had asked a class to perform.

The incident took place last month at Mountain Brook High School, near Birmingham.

A Southern Jewish Life Magazine report explains what transpired:

On Jan. 18, students in 11th grade history were instructed to stand and do the Bellamy Salute while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher, Coach Joe Webb, had explained that the salute had previously been used when reciting the Pledge, but had been retired in the early 1940s because of its resemblance to the Nazi salute. Since then, one places a hand over the heart when saying the Pledge.”

The Bellamy salute starts with an outstretched arm, palm down, but during the second phrase, “to the flag,” the palm is turned upward for the remainder of the Pledge.

After explaining the background, Webb instructed the class to rise and give the salute while reciting the Pledge.

Epps Tytell, the one Jewish student in the classroom, did not stand, and a couple other students also did not. “I was just in shock and I was confused,” he said. “I was kind of sad too, I never thought I would be in a classroom where everyone would stand up and do the Heil Hitler.”

Tytell later shared a video and photos of the incident on social media, an act for which he was reprimanded by school officials.

“They proceeded to tell me that I’m making Mountain Brook look bad for uploading the video and sharing it and asked me to apologize to my teacher, which I refused to,” he told local CBS affiliate WIAT. “The day after he made our class, and our class only, put up our phones and he moved me from sitting in the back of the class to right next to him.”

Ephraim Tytell.

 

The story eventually gained national attention, and last Tuesday Mountain Brook Schools issued a statement saying the images circulating online were “not representative of the lesson, what was being taught, or the context of the instruction that was occurring.”

However, two days later, the school district issued a follow-up statement apologizing for the incident.

It said:

The last few days have been a very difficult time for the high school, school system, and community. Earlier this week, we released a statement concerning an instructional method used in a US History lesson. We continue to learn about this matter and have heard many perspectives.

One thing has become clear, the instructional strategy for this lesson lacked sensitivity, and however unintentional, caused hurt and distress within the community. More than 17 million people were killed, including 6 million Jews, during the Holocaust and this salute desecrates their memory. We are deeply apologetic for the pain caused. There are more effective ways to teach this subject without recreating painful, emotional responses to history’s atrocities. To improve our instructional strategies, we will continue to work with the Alabama Holocaust Education Center to advance training for our teachers surrounding Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and its symbols.

We are committed to providing a safe learning environment for everyone in our schools. We continue to be in close communication with the Birmingham Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council. We understand the impact of this issue on our community and families. We will continue to provide education and additional opportunities for ongoing dialogue within the community.

We absolutely and unequivocally stand against Antisemitism.

The Birmingham Jewish Federation said the second statement was a “direct result” of its conversations with Mountain Brook Schools officials, who now “fully recognize and understand the insensitivity of the instruction in the classroom that day and the absence of a safe space for learning for the students.”

Category:United States