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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Issues Apology for Student Artwork Depicting Anti-Semitic Stereotypes

"It was not the intent of the artist to offend anyone, but rather to bring to light how the exaggeration of stereotypes spreads ignorance."

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See below for a Facebook post by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington and a statement from Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand regarding this incident (“artwork displayed last week at Northern Virginia Community College’s Ernst Community Cultural Center in Annandale, Virginia drew condemnation from a local rabbi for anti-Semitism”). Seems like a misunderstanding, more than anything; glad to see Superintendent Brabrand responding promptly and appropriately.

In response to questions raised regarding a student art project depicting anti-Semitic stereotypes, today JCRC Executive Director Ronald Halber spoke with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand. As Mr. Braband himself noted both in his sincere written apology and statement and in his conversation with Mr. Halber, it was a mistake to exhibit the student artwork, which was part of a project focused on combatting stereotypes, out of context. The JCRC commends Superintendent Braband for his swift and unequivocal response to this incident, which provides a valuable teaching moment for FCPS and our broader community, and for reaffirming to the JCRC his commitment to combating anti-Semitism and ensuring a safe and sensitive environment for all within the diverse FCPS community. We look forward to continuing to partner with FCPS Administration to achieve these goals.

Statement from Superintendent Brabrand Regarding Scholastic Art Awards

Recently, FCPS students participated in the annual art and writing competition, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.  One entry has raised legitimate concerns, particularly among members of the Jewish community, and was viewed as offensive in how Jewish individuals were depicted.  For any pain or hurt this may have caused Jewish students, families, or any members of our community, I offer our most sincere apology.

Separately, I have also issued a letter of apology (below) to community members who have shared with me directly their hurt and concerns with this artwork:

Dr. Brabrand letter on Scholastic Art Awards

Our students submit entries to the competition that are evaluated and independently judged and then many of their artworks are displayed at an exhibition held in March at a local college. The artwork in question was one of eight artworks submitted by a student as part of a portfolio entitled, “Racial Irony.” The student portfolio attempted to focus on the irony of racial stereotypes of eight different ethnicities. It was not the intent of the artist to offend anyone, but rather to bring to light how the exaggeration of stereotypes spreads ignorance.  

Judges recognized the student’s portfolio with a silver key award and the student was able to select one of the eight pieces for display at the regional show. The student selected the piece in question. Unfortunately, the artist’s statement of intent did not accompany the artwork during the exhibition to provide context and it is understandable how, out of context, observers would find the artwork to be objectionable. This is the artist’s statement of intent:

“I chose to do racial stereotypes as irony rather than any other stereotypes because I wanted individual groups to reflect and relate to what the artwork is saying, and for other groups viewing the work who may not relate to one group to see it from two sides. I think that was my subconscious purpose behind why I was so stubborn to have this be an irony of racial stereotypes rather an exaggeration of it. I believe exaggeration of stereotypes spreads ignorance, not prevents it. I want people to understand the effects or stereotypes and why it’s important to see the tragedy in it. I wanted honesty and humor in my pieces so you can learn but also laugh. Stereotypes are what they are: an over-generalized pre-conceived notion of a group of people. I also wanted to show its ignorance and the effect it has made on the people behind those stereotypes. I chose to put a positive light in what irony can do to stereotypes while still expressing its brutal reality…  I hope people can look at what I have done and appreciate the authenticity of what I was trying to convey; this is not just about stereotypes, it is also about human kind’s treatment towards one another.”

As part of our response, we will be re-examining our process for submissions to this competition and reinforcing with our art teachers the need to foster a responsive, caring, and inclusive culture while emphasizing those skills with their students. Caring culture is one goal of the FCPS Strategic Plan and it is a commitment by all FCPS employees to demonstrate cultural responsiveness when supporting families, students, other staff, and in our interactions with the community.  

Demonstrating empathy, compassion, and respect for others is an important framework for all students. We work hard to balance students’ First Amendment rights of expression and creativity in all classrooms along with the goals of the county’s One Fairfax Policy on social and racial equity. The artwork and the attention it is receiving provides us with an excellent opportunity for additional training and dialogue with our students and staff across FCPS on these important issues.  We will review our curriculum and identify areas where explicit lessons on cultural bias can be integrated into the lesson plans. We are taking these issues seriously and I am working with the School Board to address the concerns that have been raised.