Mt. Eden High School teacher Paul Maciel speaks out against fellow teacher Henry Bens at the March 8, 2023 Hayward Unified School District board meeting, while holding a copy of "The Hidden Tyranny," a hoax antisemitic text Bens taught in class at Mt. Eden. (Screenshot)
Mt. Eden High School teacher Paul Maciel speaks out against fellow teacher Henry Bens at the March 8, 2023 Hayward Unified School District board meeting, while holding a copy of "The Hidden Tyranny," a hoax antisemitic text Bens taught in class at Mt. Eden. (Screenshot)

Report: Hayward school district dragged feet on antisemitism in the classroom

Hayward Unified School District and Mt. Eden High School administrators did not respond properly to concerns raised about a teacher who used an antisemitic pamphlet in his classroom instruction, according to a new report.

An outside investigation, which concluded earlier this month, found that neither the district nor the school handled that matter promptly after receiving multiple complaints in the fall 2022 semester that English teacher Henry Bens was using an antisemitic and conspiracy-laced hoax document in class.

Despite a finding in an earlier investigation that Bens’ use of the material put him in violation of district policy, he was not fired. Instead he signed a settlement agreement with the district in October, agreeing to resign. The agreement states that the settlement itself cannot be “used or construed … that Bens has engaged in any misconduct.”

The findings in the report, signed by Superintendent Jason Reimann, were sent to those involved in the investigation as witnesses or complainants. Two copies were independently provided to J. A third party hired by the school district conducted the investigation.

“Some parts were vindicating,” Ruchita Verma said this week.

Verma, who was a senior last year at Mt. Eden, helped organize students to complain about Bens’ use of “The Hidden Tyranny.” The hoax text, subtitled “the Satanic Power which Promotes and Directs Chaos in Order to Lay Low All Civilization in Preparation for a Well-Outlined Plan for World Dictatorship,” purports to expose Jewish secrets for world domination by explaining how Jews manipulate U.S. politicians into working for their benefit.

Three Mt. Eden administrators did not respond promptly to the problem and “acknowledged that they did not read the pamphlet, observe the teacher’s classes, speak to students, or analyze the pamphlet against the District’s teaching material standards,” the report said.

The report also mentioned two district administrators who knew of the complaints but “did not ensure that Mt. Eden administrators investigated the concerns and removed The Hidden Tyranny. This was the case though District Administrator 1 and District Administrator 2 knew about the concerns and District Administrator 2 also thought the pamphlet was inappropriate teaching material.”

On other points, the report found that some claims against the school and district were not substantiated. For example, it said that while some teachers reported Mt. Eden had not taken steps to address antisemitism on campus, the school did bring in the Anti-Defamation League to speak to students.

The report did, however, address a complaint made by Verma that she was berated by administrators during her attempts to organize an antisemitism awareness week.

African American man speaking into a microphone
Henry Bens delivering a sermon at Congregation Rehoboth in Alameda on Oct. 29, 2022. (Photo/Screenshot-@biblesvoice)

At a meeting attended by students and staff, an administrator said Verma didn’t care about Jewish people and implied that Verma herself was antisemitic.

“Mt. Eden Administrator 3 denied the conduct, but the evidence contradicted her account,” the report said.

The report calls for “corrective action,” though an addendum from the superintendent states that this action is confidential due to personnel reasons.

A district spokesperson declined J.’s request for further comment.

The report’s release concludes the second investigation into the Bens matter. The first examined whether he had indeed taught antisemitic material, which would violate district policy. Bens was found to be in violation of California Education Code Section 51500, which states: “A teacher shall not give instruction and a school district shall not sponsor any activity that promotes a discriminatory bias on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, or sexual orientation, or because of a characteristic listed in Section 220.”

The first investigation also addressed the issue of academic freedom, noting that the contract between the district and teachers gives teachers the freedom to bring in supplementary material but requires it to be in line with state law and district policy.

According to the October settlement agreement, Bens will remain on paid administrative leave until the end of January 2024 and then resign from his position. He has been on paid leave since he was removed from the classroom in February 2023.

In the settlement, Bens states that his rights were not violated by the district and agrees not to sue the district. He is prohibited from future employment with HUSD. However, the agreement does not say whether he can still seek employment in other districts where his California teaching credential would be valid.

Verma, who is studying abroad, said she plans to appeal some of the findings but isn’t optimistic that there have been positive changes at Mt. Eden, where she said the Bens issue is still treated gingerly.

“Overall, I don’t know if this made any change,” Verma said. “It’s not a report that makes the change. It’s the actions being taken.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.