Teacher removes swastika flag after Jewish group complains
December 10, 2004
RENO – In response to a complaint by the Jewish Defense League, a Reno teacher was ordered to take down a flag emblazoned with a Nazi swastika from his classroom.
Pine Middle School teacher Michael MacDonald, who said he put the flag up as part of lessons on Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler, removed it Thursday.
The Jewish Defense League protested after he kept the Hitler Youth flag up for at least eight days. The group also called for MacDonald to face discipline.
“We take this symbol to be as serious as a heart attack,” said Bill Maniaci, a league spokesman. “This is a symbol of someone who wants to kill Jews.”
Washoe County School District officials apologized, but said no disciplinary action was expected.
“If I thought that he had displayed the flag in a way to support that symbol of hate, I would not wait” for disciplinary action, interim Superintendent Paul Dugan said.
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“But I have no reason to believe that he did it for anything other than an educational purpose. I do disagree with it being up for eight or nine days,” he said.
MacDonald said he has used the flag during lessons on Germany and World War II for at least 10 years. He called the flag a prop.
“We talk about Hitler sending children to war under that flag,” he said. “I show them pictures of the concentration camps, the bodies. I show them what really happened under that flag.”
Jewish leaders said MacDonald should be more sensitive in his display of historical artifacts. Some also complained about his display of a skull and crossbones symbol similar to the insignia some German Storm troopers wore.
“No one is trying to censor education,” said Rabbi Menashe Bovit of Temple Emanu El in Reno. “But to simply display the flag without commentary for a period of time seems almost like you are using the flag as a decoration.”
Fellow Pine Middle School teacher Judy Herman said she complained to the Jewish Defense League after repeatedly asking MacDonald to remove the flag.
She said her intense feelings about the flag caused her to spit on it a week ago.
“It was a symbolic spit,” said Herman, a former Reno city councilwoman. “It is offensive to me that he let it stay up as long as he did.”
It marks the second time in four years that a teacher’s use of a Nazi flag has stirred controversy in Washoe County.
In 2000, Vaughan Middle School teacher Kara Lake was forced to remove a German battle flag from her classroom where it hung as part of a lesson about World War II.