Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District, was one of three leaders from liberal public school districts called to testify before a congressional committee today.

In their ongoing crusade to root out antisemitic speech in academia, the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce called in three K-12 school superintendents Wednesday. The goal was to expose rampant antisemitism in liberal bastions of the country amid ongoing protest of the war in Gaza, following similar hearings held last fall and last month featuring presidents of elite universities.

In addition to targeting Berkeley schools, the committee also summoned David Banks, chancellor of New York City schools; and Karla Silvestre, president of the board of education in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Ford Morthel pushed back on Republican reps Wednesday, responding to claims made in a recent legal complaint from Jewish groups saying, "antisemitism is not pervasive in the Berkeley Unified School District."

“Our babies sometimes say harmful things. We are mindful that all kids make mistakes,” Ford Morthel said of students in the district, according to CNN. "We know that our staff are not immune to mistakes either. And we don’t ignore them when they occur."

This was in response to reports, reiterated by Republicans on the committee, about incidents in which protesting students at Berkeley High School were heard shouting "kill the Jews," and "fuck the Jews."

The legal complaint filed by the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law also included reports of several teachersin the Berkeley school district who were allowed to promote "antisemitic tropes and false information."

"When investigations show that an antisemitic event has occurred, we take action to teach, correct and redirect our students. We do not publicly share our actions because student information is private and legally protected under federal and state law," Ford Morthel said today, per the Chronicle. She added that if a teacher "crossed a line, we take appropriate action," but she did not disclose what those actions were. (We know already that one art teacher was put on leave after showing students an image of "a fist with a Palestinian flag pounding through a Star of David.")

Ford Morthel added, "We recognize the need to teach students to express themselves with respect and compassion."

As the Chronicle reports, Banks, the New York schools chancellor, expressed his protest over the hearing, saying, "This convening — for so many people across America in education — feels like the ultimate gotcha moment. It doesn't sound like people are actually trying to solve for something that I believe we should be doing everything we can to solve for."

Banks had earlier told the New York Times, "I fundamentally believe that if we truly care about solving antisemitism, you don’t do it through cheap political theater."

All in all, the hearing did not seem to produce the kind of scandalous soundbites that Republicans sought from the likes of UPenn President M. Elizabeth Magill and Harvard President Claudine Gay, both of whom resigned their posts in the wake of their hearing.

As the New York Times writes today, the hearing "largely failed to land damaging blows," and Banks in particular "seemed unafraid of wading into a sustained back-and-forth with lawmakers that many witnesses generally seek to avoid when testifying before Congress."

East Bay Representative Barbara Lee gave a statement to the Chronicle today about the hearing, calling it Republican grandstanding. "The Republican majority continues to use their committee business time to get sound bites to post to their social media pages and talk about on Fox News," Lee said. "They have no real interest in solving the issue at hand, which is bigotry in schools. I would welcome this new 'enthusiasm' from our Republicans colleagues to address hate everywhere, but I am not inclined to believe they are acting in good faith.”

Previously: Berkeley Schools Superintendent Called to Testify Before Congressional Committee Over Antisemitism Claims

Top image: Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District, listens during a hearing with subcommittee members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on May 08, 2024 in Washington, DC. Members of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education subcommittee held the hearing to speak with education workers and a member of the ACLU to discuss cases of antisemitism in K-12 schools. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)