Ann Arbor Public Schools board member pressured superintendent to remove the word “terrorist” from statement about attack against Israel; board member also accused Israel of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”


Parents Defending Education submitted a public records request to Ann Arbor Public Schools seeking emails from the superintendent and members of the Board of Education for the month after Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel. One email that PDE received was a statement sent out to the community from then-Superintendent Jeanice Swift dated October 11, 2023. She explained in the statement:

We are devastated by the terrorist attacks in Israel, and we are heartbroken to hear of the loss of life occurring over recent days in both Israel and Gaza. Our thoughts are with staff, students, families and community members who have been impacted by the crisis that has unfolded. These attacks come at a time of increased antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world.

Former Superintendent Swift then quickly backtracked and apologized for saying that Hamas committed “terrorist attacks.” On October 13, she forwarded emails from the community about her statement as well as her responses to the Board of Education. In one comment, a person claiming to be a student said: “You claim that ‘Israel’ is under ‘terrorist attacks’ while Palestinians have endured decades of killings from these people. I feel offended by the word choice that you used especially because you are inferring that Palestinians are the ‘terrorists.'”

The superintendent responded that she was “deeply sorry for sharing words that made you feel disrespected and disappointed.” She then added: “Following the feedback you shared with me on Wednesday, I amended the Superintendent Statement to omit the use of the word ‘terrorist,’ both in the title and in the opening sentence of the message.” She explained that she “will take more care with the choice of words in any future messages.”

One member of the community sent an email to the superintendent saying that the statement was “inappropriate” and that she did not support Israel. She continued to explain: “I don’t appreciate receiving this email…..Do better!! Not everyone support Israel!!!!!” The superintendent responded: “I take your message very seriously, and am deeply sorry for sharing a message that you felt failed to be appropriately neutral.” She added: “Following the feedback you shared, I amended the Superintendent Statement to omit the use of the word ‘terrorist,’ both in the title and in the opening sentence of the message.”

Another member of the community responded to the statement claiming the district needed to be “neutral” and that Palestinians were the actual people who were “wronged,” “oppressed,” and “terrorized.” The superintendent provided the same response: “Following the feedback you shared, I amended the Superintendent Statement to omit the use of the word ‘terrorist,’ both in the title and in the opening sentence of the message.”

PDE followed the link in the superintendent’s emails to the updated Israel statement. Her updated statement did, in fact, remove the word “terrorist” from the attacks against Israel.

On October 13, board member of the district Rima Mohammad posted a statement on X with fellow board member Jeff Gaynor that they were “heartbroken by the ongoing violence, suffering, & loss of life among Israeli & Palestinian people.” She added: “We know that this is a particularly difficult time for teachers, students, staff, administrators & families who are personally affected by the attacks & response.”

In the following days on X, she attacked Israel and accused the country of “genocide.” She stated on October 14: “This will get worse and we are reliving the horror of 1948. This is #GazaGenocide and we MUST call for a cease fire immediately!”

On October 20, she accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” once again. She stated: “My family endured the horror & pain of the #EthnicCleansing of Palestine in 1948, & it’s still occurring to this day. However, what we’re seeing today is pure genocide of innocent Palestinians by the Israeli government.”

She continued to make statements accusing Israel of “genocide” in the following months.

Rima Mohammad released a statement with fellow board member Jeff Gaynor.
Rima Mohammad accused Israel of “genocide.”
Rima Mohammad continued to accuse Israel of “genocide.”

On October 14 in an email exchange, board member Jeff Gaynor responded to Superintendent Swift thanking her for removing the word “terrorist” from the statement: “Dr. Swift, thank you for modifying your original statement to recognize that actions from both Hamas and the Israelis resulted in the senseless deaths of so many innocent people.”

On October 15, board member Susan Schmidt appeared to have an issue with the joint statement from Rima Mohammad and Jeff Gaynor. She stated:

For the record, I am not aware that President Mohammad offered other trustees an “opportunity” to sign on to her statement. I was only made aware that she was going to share a statement. These issues are very personal to all of us and how we respond in public is also very personal. Having lived in Israel and having friends both Israeli and Palestinian, I am extremely sensitive to how the best intentions of communication during times like these can be misinterpreted and can cause distress when not intended.

She then added: “The result, however, is that since all board members did not join in on the statement, we do not have as much concern. This is the unintended consequences of individual board statements, especially at the onset of the meeting and when read by our President.” Rima Mohammad then responded:

I did not want to send a Board Statement that is not strongly supported by all Trustees. I did not want anyone to feel pressured or uncomfortable to join the Board statement and you are all welcome to provide your own statement if preferred. As for Dr. Swift’s statement, I will be honest, it has significantly upset many from the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian community. I have already discussed these concerns with Dr. Swift, and she fixed the statement on the website. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and I know this was not done intentionally by Dr. Swift as she tried to balance the message.

Board member Susan Schmidt then sent an email to fellow board member Susan Baskett that Rima Mohammad “does not get it.” Susan Baskett responded: “She does not care! Her world is all about her world. Not anyone else.”

On January 17, 2024, the district’s Board of Education adopted a policy titled “Resolution Calling for a Bilateral Ceasefire in Gaza and Israel and to Address Hate and Discrimination.” The resolution called for a “bilateral ceasefire in Gaza and Israel, release of all hostages, and unrestricted humanitarian aid at the levels recommended by the U.N. to the Palestinian people.” The resolution made no reference to the terrorist attack against Israel.