Preschool classroom displays with painted watermelon slices and Palestinian flag
A Stanford University day care displays watermelon art painted by young children, next to a Palestinian flag. (Photo/@SFJCRC/X)

Pro-Palestinian display at Stanford University day care unnerves some parents

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Updated Mar. 23

A day care center at Stanford University for children of faculty, staff and students is facing questions after preschoolers colored in watermelons, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity, that were then displayed on a wall alongside a Palestinian flag.

A photo circulating on social media shows 13 child-like interpretations of watermelon slices, painted on paper plates, stuck on a display board under the banner, “Look what I made.” A Palestinian flag hangs next to them.

Families raised concerns about the display this week and it was removed, spokespeople for the university and for the outside contractor that runs the preschool said in statements to J. on Thursday.

The watermelon has re-emerged as a potent symbol of Palestinian solidarity since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, as the watermelon’s red, black and green are the same colors found on the Palestinian flag.

The preschool incident speaks to the ways in which the Israel-Hamas war continues to reverberate in unexpected ways in American society, particularly in schools.

In a Berkeley public elementary school, for example, a second-grade teacher allegedly displayed a Palestinian flag in a classroom window in the days after Oct. 7. Students also wrote “stop bombing babies” on sticky notes, according to a complaint filed with the federal government by the nonprofit Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Anti-Defamation League.

“For a number of Jewish and Israeli families, seeing this highly charged symbol placed in the window of a second-grade classroom right after the mass killing of Jews in Israel has felt threatening, hostile, and deeply upsetting,” the complaint said of the Palestinian flag.

And at Berkeley High School, a teacher has faced repercussions for displaying artwork of a fist punching through a Star of David in an art class. Those two incidents and others led the Brandeis Center and the ADL to formally request last month that the U.S. Department of Education open a discrimination probe into the Berkeley Unified School District.

Bringing the conflict into the classroom is not the way to show inclusiveness and care for our children.

Other displays of Palestinian flags have drawn similar concerns. In November, a Palestinian flag flew on a flagpole outside a public high school in Oakland. A photo of the flag went viral, and many wondered why the U.S. and California flags, which state law requires be displayed during school hours, were absent. At San Francisco Friends School, a private school founded on Quaker values, Jewish parent Carrie Goorin said multiple parents complained to school leaders after a large Palestinian flag was put on display in February. A photo obtained by J. shows the flag hanging between two windows at the end of a hallway.

SF Friends said the flag was part of a seventh-grade project in which each student “creates an individual museum display that represents how culture forms who they are and how they see the world.” The school disputed the claim that multiple parents complained, saying only one did. The flag is no longer up, a school spokesperson told J. Friday.

The Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area commented this week in an X post on the Stanford day care display. “Bringing the conflict into the classroom is not the way to show inclusiveness and care for our children,” the JCRC wrote.

Stanford has six on-site early childhood education programs catering to students, postdocs, faculty, hospital staff and others affiliated with the university. Stanford does not operate the day care sites, outsourcing them to the International Child Resource Institute, a nonprofit based in Berkeley.

ICRI responded to J.’s request for comment, stating that its priority is “nurturing and maintaining a caring, respectful, and inclusive environment for all of our families and staff.”

“We recently were notified of a concern related to artwork in a classroom that displayed a teacher’s heritage,” the statement said. “Upon receiving this information, we immediately directed the classroom to remove this artwork and promptly addressed this matter internally as well.”

The organization said its leaders are “engaging in reflective and deeper discussions with our teaching teams” and with school families on the issue.

A Stanford spokesperson said the day care center is taking “concerns seriously.”

“The display in question was removed,” according to a statement emailed from Luisa Rapport, Stanford director of emergency communications and media relations. “The child care center has been in communication with families on this issue and has been taking their concerns seriously. We have reminded our childcare operators about the importance of creating and nurturing inclusive environments and that instructors in the childcare centers are not to make political statements or engage in conduct that could be reasonably interpreted as such.”

This story was updated to reflect the fact that San Francisco Friends School disputes the claim that multiple parents complained about a Palestinian flag.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.