A week after hundreds of students caused a disruption at Hillcrest High School, Schools Chancellor David Banks spent Monday talking with students and staff at his alma mater.
“We spent a good chunk of time early afternoon with dozens of students just hearing from them and that’s very, very important when you’re dealing with students as adults — that you don’t just come in with all of your judgments and the kids feel like you don’t even know them and you haven’t even heard from them,” Banks said.
Social media videos showed hundreds of students causing a disruption in the hallways of Hillcrest High School last Monday. Students called for the removal of a Jewish teacher for her support of Israel and the chaos went viral on TikTok.
Banks said about 400 of the school’s 2,500 students took part in the protest, roving through halls and leaving the teacher fearing for her safety. She was moved to another floor just before the protest.
“The teacher was not in direct danger,” Banks said.
Students, including senior president Muhammad Ghazali, say the protest got out of control, in part because some students saw it as an opportunity to act out rather than rally around a message.
“They really did it for their personal enjoyment, their personal pleasure. And that’s what really caused the problem. School property was damaged. Certain individuals, they were mentally hurt. They were emotionally hurt because of the situation. School safety, students, staff. The whole entire Hillcrest Community was hurt and broken,” Ghazali said.
Banks said privacy rules meant he could not share specifics, but some students had been suspended. He said he would not allow the teacher to be bullied out of her own school, and that she would return to the classroom.
But he also pushed back on the notion that the students were radicalized, saying many in the school’s large Muslim community feel connections to the images of suffering families in Gaza they see each day.
Still, while many students NY1 spoke with at dismissal agreed the protest got out of control, one chanted “Go Hamas!” to NY1 cameras.
Banks says there’s more work to do.
“This is a moment of challenge, but I believe that the folks of this school will meet this moment. In fact, we need them to do that. If they can’t come together to figure it out, then we’ve got real trouble,” Banks said.