Teacher resigns after assigning fifth-grader class project in which she dressed up as Hitler

A New Jersey elementary school teacher will resign after he allowed a student to dress up as Adolf Hitler and write and essay about the dictator’s accomplishments. 

The teacher and principal at Maugham Elementary School have been on a leave of absence since May.

On Monday at a school board meeting in Tenafly, the board voted to accept the resignation of the teacher, who has not been named, but reinstated Principal Jennifer Ferrara to Maugham Elementary School, according to NorthJersey.com

Superintendent Shauna DeMarco of Tenafly Public Schools said: ‘While everyone might not agree with my ultimate recommendations, it’s important to know that I have taken every piece of feedback that I have received seriously.

‘I’m so appreciative of how engaged our community is around our students’ education.’

A fifth-grader’s ‘Character Development’ project on Adolf Hitler (pictured) was hung in the hallways of Maugham Elementary School in Tenafly, New Jersey for weeks, according to parents. A photo of it went viral in late May

Ferrara told the board meeting that during her administrative leave, she reflected on the decisions she made and how they impacted students, staff, and the community.

‘As a school leader, I definitely made mistakes that played a role in what happened, and for that, I take full responsibility and I’m eternally sorry,’ said Ferrara, who has been principal for nearly 11 years.

‘This experience has taught me to think more broadly about the consequences of every decision that I make.’

The online outrage began when a photo of the student’s report hanging in the school’s hallway was posted on social media in late May.

The teacher and principal were put on paid leave during the superintendent’s investigation of the assignment. 

School board President Jocelyn Schwarz said the administration will work with Ferrara to provide an easy transition and ‘foster a safe and learning environment.’

The fifth-grader's one-page essay on Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (circled) hung in the hallways of Maugham Elementary School for weeks

The fifth-grader’s one-page essay on Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (circled) hung in the hallways of Maugham Elementary School for weeks

‘I personally believe the investigation into what happened was thorough, well-executed and got the answers the board needed to move forward,’ Schwarz said. 

The fifth grade student in question was assigned a ‘Character Development project’ in which she dressed up as Hitler and wrote an essay listing the dictator’s ‘accomplishments.’

The young girl wrote a one-page essay in Hitler’s voice that described his rise to power by ‘uniting a great mass of German and Austrian people behind me.’

Word spread about the project after an outraged mother posted to Facebook a picture of the ‘Character Development’ project essay hanging in a school hallway, saying it had been there for weeks. 

‘This is ignorance, antisemitism and hatred taught at a fifth grade level,’ Lori Birk posted on May 30. 

‘Shame on the parents who helped their child dress as Hitler and the teacher who has approved such hatred.’ 

Birk said she was informed on the project by the parent of another fifth-grade student. 

The 10-year-old girl who did the assignment added in the pencil-written essay, ‘I was pretty great, wasn’t I? I was very popular and many people followed me until I died. My belif (sic) in antisemitism drove me to kill more than 6 million Jews.’ 

Birk and multiple reports also confirm that the student dressed as Hitler as part of the project. Birk questioned why any child would be made to dress as the dictator and called it ‘antisemitism’.

‘Antisemitism in full form right here in Bergen County,’ she added. ‘Mayor Mark Zinna and Governor Phil Murphy- is HATE really acceptable in the NJ public school system?’   

The woman who told Birk about the project has a student in the school but in a different class. 

Still, Birk told the Post Millennial in an exclusive interview, the child ‘still had to walk down the hall and see it,’ for the two weeks it was up. 

The essay was part of a teacher-approved ‘Character Development’ project assigned in April where students selected a historical figure of their choice to research.

Following an investigation by the school superintendent after she was advised of the project, DeMarco released a statement acknowledging the ‘understandable’ anger over the assignment. 

But she said it was handed out by a Jewish teacher and issued ‘within the context of social justice’. 

‘We fully appreciate the concerns that have arisen regarding a fifth-grade class assignment on social norms and historical figures who personify good and evil,’ the boards statement said. 

‘Unfortunately, this assignment has been taken out of context, resulting in understandable anger and concern.’

The teacher in question has agreed to resign and the principal was reinstated. Maugham Elementary School in Tenafly is pictured

The teacher in question has agreed to resign and the principal was reinstated. Maugham Elementary School in Tenafly is pictured

‘The assignment (which was given by a teacher who happens to be Jewish) asked students to speak from the perspective of one of these individuals and how they might have perceived and rationalized their actions. When people saw the students’ projects, which were displayed in the school, they did not understand the assignment, resulting in justifiable concerns,’ the statement added. 

‘Given that the lesson was specifically issued within the context of social justice, it is unfair to judge any student or teacher in this matter. Tenafly Public Schools condemn antisemitism, racism, and bias of any kind. We hope that after reviewing these facts you will join with us to help our community begin the healing process’, the statement concluded. 

DeMarco’s statement did not go over well with some parents who were still fired up over the project, which one parent called a ‘terrible error in judgement,’ dailyvoice.com reported. 

‘I’d love to see the original assignment from the teacher in writing,’  a parent wrote. ‘The BOE is saying that the assignment dealt with social norms and historical figures that personified good and evil. Yet in one of the groups, a mom with a child in the class mentioned that her child did the assignment on a baseball player.

The Tenafly Public Schools board agreed to reinstate Jennifer Ferrara (above) as the principal at Maugham Elementary School

The Tenafly Public Schools board agreed to reinstate Jennifer Ferrara (above) as the principal at Maugham Elementary School

‘I wonder how many other children chose figures who personified evil,’ the parent added. ‘This seems like a cover-up by the BOE and it’s disturbing.’

The school board also released a copy of the assignment to dailyvoice.com

For the one-page essay, students were asked to describe what made their subject famous, provide ‘examples of his/her accomplishments’, describe ‘what impact’ the subject had on the world, Explain what you ‘admire most about your subject’ and include ‘what important life lessons you could learn’ from the subject’s life.’    

Another parent wrote: ‘This does not address the fact that this was displayed in the hallways of Maugham, to all passersby, who were not in this alleged ‘context’? How are 5th Graders, who are not yet old enough to learn about the Holocaust, supposedly able to understand the difference between ‘speak in Hitler’s voice for a day’ and advocating Hitler’s views?’  

A day after DeMarco’s statement, the Tenafly Board of Education released a letter calling the incident ‘horrible, and saying that an investigation would continue and that it realized parents remained upset. 

‘We know yesterday’s communication caused more upset than good. For that, we are very sorry. 

To this point we have shared information about events that recently came to light, which on their face, are horrible’, the statement said.

The board statement said it did not think the student meant to be antisemitic, but that questions remained unanswered.

‘There is no question that our administration will need to determine what went wrong, if and why the assignment for this class was different than the other 5th grade classes, and who bears responsibility,’ it said. 

‘Once all of the facts are known, Superintendent DeMarco will present her findings and recommendations to the Board. We will then act on those findings and recommendations.’ 

Birk’s Facebook post of the essay continues to get angry responses from parents who want answers for why this project was allowed.

‘How is this possible in one of the most Israeli towns in the country?’ Jodi Karsch Cohen commented. ‘I am disgusted.’ 

Despite the board’s investigation, parents have said they are making plans to attend a board meeting to bring up the project, dailyvoice.com reported. 

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