Monday, April 15, 2024

NHCS explains why Israeli song was pulled from chorus concert

The DA along with Sheriff have requested an outside investigation into allegations against New Hanover County Schools administration. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
New Hanover County Schools has issued an explanation for why it pulled an Israeli song from its All County Chorus concert. (Port City Daily/file photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A recent student chorus concert has become another hotbed for controversy over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

READ MORE: School board candidate’s dropout related to pro-Palestine post, Democratic infighting

The New Hanover County All County Chorus concert, where students from all of the county’s schools gather to perform, took place Feb. 17. Missing from the elementary school program was the song “BaShana HaBa’a” a 1970 Israeli song lamenting the death of an Israeli soldier. 

Port City Daily learned participants from each elementary school were given six songs to prepare for the concert, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous. This person said at the end of January, teachers and participants were notified that “BaShana HaBa’a” was to be removed from the program without explanation. 

Thereafter, at the Feb. 20 NHCS policy committee meeting, school board member Pat Bradford said she had been notified of the situation. She used the incident as a precursor to an attempt to amend policy to limit displayed material to the content about the U.S., North Carolina, New Hanover County, school name, mascot, and the improved curriculum. Board member Stephanie Kraybill said the song removal would not fall under the purview of that policy. 

Bradford cited a notice sent to school music teachers that states: “In the effort to maintain the safety, inclusion and consideration of all New Hanover County students, it’s in our best interest to remove this from the program.” 

According to the district, the decision to withdraw “BaShana HaBa’a” was made after a family of one student singer notified the district of the context of the song. 

“BaShana HaBa’a” was written by Nurit Hirsch and Ehud Manor in memory of the latter’s younger brother Yehuda Weiner, killed during Israeli military service in 1968. The lyrics do not allude to the death directly, instead stating: “next year we will spread out our hands towards the radiant light” and “a white heron like a light will spread her wings and within them the sun will rise.”

The removal of the song comes as Israel enters its fifth month of fighting Hamas militants in Gaza, a Palestinian territory that has an extensive history of conflict with Israel. The most recent conflict began Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas militants from Gaza, one of two Palestinian territories, invaded Israel, took over a hundred people hostage, and murdered 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials. 

Israel continues to lay siege to Gaza in response, the most recent violence occuring on Feb. 29, when Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd of people waiting for aid in Gaza City, killing over 100 people and wounding at least 700 more. 

The Gazan Health Ministry is now reporting more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, while more than double that have been wounded. The Health Ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures but reports around two-thirds of the Gazans killed were women and children.

NHCS spokesperson Christina Beam said the decision to remove the Israeli song was made on Friday, Feb. 2, and shared with school music teachers on Tuesday, Feb. 6. 

“While “BaShana HaBa’a” was not selected for the All County Chorus performance, elementary music teachers were told they are welcome to continue teaching it and incorporating it into other performances because of its cultural value,” Beam said. 

She also told PCD that some elementary schools have been seeing an increase in derogatory language, cultural slurs, and bullying among 4th- and 5th-grade students, which also informed the decision to nix the song.

Carolina Beach and Bellamy elementaries have recently addressed the use of inappropriate language among some students. The principals sent home identical letters with upper-grade students asking parents to have conversations about being respectful and kind to their peers. 

Per the letter, school staff have found that many of the instances of foul language stem from “exposure to inappropriate content on platforms like YouTube and other social media channels.”

The letter urges parents to take an active role in monitoring their child’s internet and social media usage and have open conversations about the impact of language. 

Beam said Carolina Beach and Bellamy elementaries  share a social worker, who has told Beam that anecdotally among colleagues she’s heard of these behavioral challenges at other schools as well. Beam added the district does not have any reports or releasable records to share regarding the increased incidents.

The All County Chorus song removal is not the first time the international conflict has influenced New Hanover County Schools; a Democratic school board candidate, Cynthia Munoz, dropped out of the race in January after facing backlash from her own party members over her support for pro-Palestinian causes.

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