Mercer Island School District superintendent appeared concerned with what community members sympathizing with Hamas would think of statement; provides resource linking to organization that attacked Israel


Parents Defending Education submitted a public records request to the Mercer Island School District seeking any emails from the superintendent or board members as well as statements sent to families, students, or staff regarding the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel. One email exchange PDE received from the district was dated from October 10 to October 12, 2023. Mercer Island School District’s Superintendent Fred Rundle was communicating with Bainbridge Island School District’s Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen and Bellevue School District’s Superintendent Kelly Aramaki.

Superintendent Bang-Knudsen sent out a message in his district directly referencing the Hamas terrorist attack and gave sympathy to Israel and anyone connected. Superintendent Fred Rundle received backlash for his statement’s lack of support for Israel and lack of mentioning the terrorist attack. Superintendent Kelly Aramaki said that his own message to his district was “really triggering to them…so I’m having to work on healing some of that.” Bang-Knudsen offered to call Fred Rundle “about lessons learned” because he received backlash from his statement’s support of Israel.

Fred Rundle responded that “our community struggles and reactions are similar.” He appeared concerned about showing support for Israel and against Hamas because of how community members sympathetic to Hamas may feel:

I am not surprised by the struggle because of the magnitude of the atrocities and impact on humanity. I am surprised by the reactions. We each tried to convey a message to our communities that accounted for all of our students, though in slightly different ways. The reactions we are getting seem to suggest there may not be a way to speak to our communities as leaders in a way that will unite and not divide. Kelly, you may be onto something. Perhaps in person conversations and not words will be required.

A social studies teacher at Mercer Island High School sent Superintendent Fred Rundle an email seemingly confirming this concern on October 13:

Thanks for the leadership Fred. The situation in Israel and Gaza is horrible, and emotions run so high that it is near impossible to speak about it without one’s words or tone striking someone as off.

Despite Superintendent Fred Rundle stating that the district had seven students in Israel when Hamas attacked the country, his statement to the school district does not mention the Hamas terrorist attack. He specifically stated “the horrific events in Israel and Gaza that began over the weekend.” The superintendent also provided a list of resources for parents with one resource linking to the organization Learning for Justice. The superintendent stated: “Learning for Justice offers recommendations and resources to help guide conversations with young people and to manage potential subsequent actions and reactions.”

Learning for Justice had a resource posted online until the Hamas terrorist attack titled “Resources for Learning About Israel and Palestine.” The organization only took the resource down after the attack. Learning for Justice attacked Israel in this resource while mentioning “imperialism” and “oppressive systems.” Learning for Justice stated:

The long history surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deep and complicated. But there are things we know to be true. We know this conflict connects to imperialism and other oppressive systems that we encourage educators to name and address with students. We know that people are dying, fighting for their lives and engaging in liberation movements to be heard and treated with dignity—and that they’ve been doing so for decades. And we know that all children deserve to be safe.

Learning for Justice appeared to target Israel.