The findings were released nearly a year after complaints were first raised
The findings of a six-month independent investigation found that Hayward school district administrators failed to respond to multiple complaints about an educator teaching antisemitic material in his classroom, the latest chapter in a nearly year-long controversy involving Henry Bens, a former English teacher at Mt. Eden High School.
Students and teachers reported in December that Bens was using The Hidden Tyranny, an anti-Semitic text written by Holocaust denier Benjamin Freedman, in his 10th grade classroom. According to multiple students at the school, Bens also saluted and excused Adolf Hitler, saying he would “let (Hitler) share his views” if given the chance.
An independent investigation by Ellis Investigations Law Corporation nearly ten months later confirmed that Bens had taught with antisemitic materials and verbally attacked teachers who spoke out against him. A second investigation has found that neither Mt. Eden nor Hayward Unified administrators addressed students’ concerns adequately. According to the investigation, school administrators admitted to not reading the antisemitic text, observing Bens’ classes, or speaking with students after concerns about Bens were raised.
Despite the fact that the district was made aware of Bens’ behavior in mid-December 2022, administrators did not take action to address the situation until February 2023, when the teacher was placed on paid administrative leave. Despite the fact that two of those administrators “had a duty to ensure that teachers used appropriate supplemental sources… but did not do so with sufficient diligence,”
Mt. Eden High and Hayward Unified administrators denied failing to address students’ concerns, but the investigation found that “the evidence contradicted their accounts.”
“Having found the above stated conduct occurred, corrective action is appropriate,” wrote Hayward Unified Superintendent Dr. Jason Reimann in a letter to one of the complainants obtained by The Bay Area News Group. Reimann did not specify what actions were being taken.
“However, please be assured the District is taking appropriate action to address the matter,” he said in a statement.
A Mt. Eden administrator was also found to have harshly criticized a student, recent graduate Ruchita Verma, during a meeting about Anti-Semitism Awareness Week. Verma was one of the first students to complain about Bens’ instruction, and she attempted to organize a week of events after Bens was expelled from high school.
According to the investigation report, the administrator stated that the 18-year-old “did not care about Jewish people and implied that (she was) antisemitic” in front of Verma’s teachers and classmates, an incident that resulted in Verma running from the room in tears.
“People might think that because the investigation ended, all issues are resolved,” Verma said. “But that’s far from the truth.”
The investigation was made public amid rising anti-Semitism across the country. The number of antisemitic incidents in the United States increased 400% two weeks after Israel and Hamas went to war on Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Though Reimann stated that he could not comment on personnel matters, he did express his hope that “the conclusion of the independent investigations helps lead us to healing.”
According to the settlement agreement between Bens and Hayward Unified, the district severed ties with the teacher in October but agreed to continue providing his regular monthly salary and benefits until the end of January 2024.
Bens’ salary for the 2021-22 academic year was $113,815 per year, according to district spokesperson Michael Bazeley. Bens’ teaching certificate was still valid as of early November and is not set to expire until next April.
Despite the fact that the investigation found that district and Mt. Eden administrators addressed antisemitism on the high school’s campus four months after complaints were filed, both teachers and Verma said that was not the case. Verma, for example, described the healing circle cited in the report as a ring of candles with a stuffed bear in the center, with Beyonce music playing in the background to “honor Holocaust survivors.”
“That’s outrageous,” said Verma. “(These findings) don’t capture our experiences.”