(The Center Square) – A Northern Virginia middle school chose “Palestine” as their country to represent as part of a school district-wide multicultural fair, omitting any recognition of the State of Israel – including maps.
The fair was recently presented by the Stafford County Public Schools “to empower multicultural awareness” for students and the community. All 33 schools in the district participated, with nearly 1,000 in attendance. Schools “were able to choose the country they wanted to represent,” according to the school district.
Stafford Middle School chose to represent “Palestine,” spearheaded by an English as a second language teacher. The booth included a map, religious landmarks, descriptions of traditional foods, music, clothing and agriculture, including interactive handouts.
Notably absent from display was any reference to the State of Israel, including a map of the country labeled “Palestine.” The Jewish State wasn’t spotlighted by any school at the fair.
The school district confirmed with The Center Square that “table organizers worked with their school administration to develop their displays.” Several Islamic sites, including the Dome of the Rock, were highlighted. The adjacent Wailing Wall, considered the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people, was not.
Among the handouts was a coloring map of the country, known as the pre-1947 Palestine Mandate map.
The representation of “Palestine,” while failing to indicate the existence of the State of Israel at the school district’s event, comes on the heels of several pro-Palestinian student-led protests across the commonwealth, sparking condemnation and an executive order from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration.
“The display at Stafford Middle School is a deeply concerning display of antisemitism,” Youngkin’s spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told The Center Square. “The governor’s executive directive 6, combating antisemitism and anti-religious bigotry, directs the Superintendent to provide local guidance to ensure local school divisions prevent antisemitism and discrimination.”
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares authored a letter to university presidents encouraging them to protect their Jewish students, citing “from the river to the sea” chants from Students for Justice in Palestine. “This statement is a call for the complete destruction of Israel and denial of its right to exist,” the attorney general wrote in his letter.
“Antisemitism is rising at an alarming rate, both in Virginia and nationally. We must ensure that our Jewish Virginians protected and feel supported in the classroom,” Miyares told The Center Square in response to the incident involving Stafford Middle School.
The school district is defending the event as a “celebration of culture” and “not a curriculum tool.” However, it reiterated schools “were able to choose the country they wanted to represent.”
“The Stafford Middle School booth was led by an ESOL teacher, who did not intentionally leave out representation on her map. It is worth noting that 52 countries are represented by students attending this middle school, and that flags representing all 52 countries (to include both Israel and Palestine) are hanging in the school,” Sandra Osborn, chief communications officer for Stafford County Public Schools, told The Center Square.
“In no manner was there ‘a deliberate attempt to erase the recognition of the State of Israel by school educators and administrators,’” Osborn said in response. “We take antisemitism very seriously. The school district routinely works with the Anti-Defamation League and we treasure both our Jewish and Islamic families. Last year in fact, we incorporated both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into our school calendars.”