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The Monarch Times

Bens Investigation Concludes, Results in Dismissal

Hayward Unified School District concluded its 10-month investigation of Mt. Eden teacher Henry Bens on September 20, 2023. Although he was not fired, Bens signed a separation agreement with the district, finalizing his removal from HUSD. Bens’ teaching credential will remain valid until April 2024, and HUSD will not terminate Bens’ pay until January. 

Last school year, Mt. Eden’s administration received reports that Bens was using antisemitic documents to give instruction. Bens violated California state law and board mandates prohibiting teachers from sponsoring discrimination. HUSD’s board policies require that instructional materials be appropriate and educationally relevant. “Academic freedom is not absolute. It must be exercised within the law and the basic ethical responsibilities of the teaching profession,” an HUSD report states. HUSD’s actions produced mixed reactions. “While I am glad to learn that Mr. Bens will not be allowed to return to [HUSD], it is my personal opinion that Mr. Bens should be stripped of his teaching credential, and HUSD should be pursuing this to ensure that he is not allowed to repeat what happened in any classroom in the future,” comments teacher Marie Butler. 

 Mt. Eden graduate Ruchita Verma also believes the administration should have taken more drastic measures. “I feel like there still needs to be accountability and transformative justice. The real harm is antisemitism, which the District hasn’t addressed yet,” she asserts. However, Julie Greenfield, a representative of the Jewish community, approves of the district’s response. “Of course, it would be more satisfying if he was fired, but realistically, the district did what it had to do. He was suing the district. It would cost thousands of dollars to take him to court,” says Greenfield.

HUSD plans to challenge antisemitism by expanding training for staff. They will inform teachers about the limitations of free speech in schools and encourage complaints surrounding discrimination. It’s unclear when HUSD will implement these measures. “I learned earlier this year from Dr. Cofield that Ms. Bell is our Anti-Bias Anti-Racist site facilitator, but no information has been shared with staff regarding when ABAR professional development will be happening,” says Butler. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic events in California increased by 137% between 2021 and 2022. Although Greenfield feels safe in the Bay Area, she expressed how her children felt othered as the only Jewish kids in their classes. “My kids went to  school, and there were times when people made antisemitic remarks. Nothing that terrible, but there were enough,” she states. The Jewish population of the Bay Area is around 4%, and HUSD’s is far smaller.  

Bens’ instruction “could have radicalized students who don’t have any other exposure to the Holocaust,” asserts teacher Tracy Phillips. Phillips says Bens missed the opportunity to teach students how to detect misinformation. “Had Mr. Bens used Freedman’s propaganda in that way, he could’ve taught a brilliant lesson about how words can be weapons. He used it instead to try to turn kids into antisemites,” Phillips argues. 

Butler agrees with Phillips that Bens potentially influenced students’ attitudes: “I want to believe that the interventions planned will help, but the seeds of hate are hard to weed out once they have been planted.”

Disputes surrounding Bens affected Mt. Eden’s staff. A second investigation surrounding the administration’s response will conclude in November. There are allegations that Bens used slurs toward other staff members. Many teachers feel that this incident divided staff and there was no resolution.  

The Bens controversy took a great toll on those involved. “This whole ordeal has caused me great stress. Many of my colleagues who are Jewish have confided in me how this has negatively impacted them, including and especially my husband Mr. Elliott,” says Butler. Verma similarly expressed trauma. “I’m carrying this heavy pain with me, and to this day, I still feel it in my body. Walking away from senior year knowing my community is in pain devastated me.”

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About the Contributor
Elisandra Hampton, Copy Editor, Formatting Editor
My name is Elisandra Hampton and I am the Copy Editor and Formatting Editor of The Monarch Times for the 2023-24 school year. I joined The Monarch Times last year and I am dedicated to writing quality articles. I was born in Hayward, raised in Hayward, and plan to die in Hayward. My hobbies include drawing, reading, and spending hours on Instagram Reels. I hope I can continue creating informative content this year.  
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