Akiba officials have charged that racist and anti-Semitic remarks were made during the Jan. 16 confrontation and that anti-Semitic slurs have been common over the years. Phelps administrators said they were not aware of any bigotry and have complained about the conduct of some Akiba staffers and students. The ninth grader who hit the Akiba student was expelled.
The schools agreed yesterday that the members of their basketball teams and their administrators would take part in a daylong exchange next week at Phelps, in Malvern. A basketball game between the schools that was scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed, tentatively until Feb. 19.
The meeting will be mediated by ADL staffers and will address "prejudice and bigotry," said Barry Morrison, the regional director of the ADL. "We're not accusing anybody of anything, but we want to help the teams show other students how to lead - how to stand up to bigotry and intolerance."
Other educational events for the entire populations of both schools were also discussed in general terms; both schools expressed a willingness to participate, Morrison said.
"Phelps officials said they did not observe any anti-Semitism or racism, but they did say that it could have been that some individuals may have made inappropriate statements," Morrison said. ". . . We feel unquestionably that such statements were made but not every remark was shouted from the bleachers; they took place in a variety of settings. Regardless, the schools agreed to . . . talk about what has transpired, to learn from each other, and to turn this into an opportunity to broaden their horizons. We think we have something here to build on."
Morrison emphasized that both schools will gain from the exchange. "There was a sense that students at Akiba might be insular in their own environment; all of the students have a lot to learn," he said.
Rabbi Philip Field, the head of Akiba, in Lower Merion, said: "I think it really has been a worthwhile educational process - we have not ignored the issue [of anti-Semitism] but are dealing with it in a positive way. We agreed that this could be a model that other schools in our league could benefit from as well."
"I thought it went very well," said Phelps headmaster Carl E. Ortman. "Now, they can come here in a nonhostile, noncompetitive environment, just as teenagers. I think that will trickle down through the years. . . . I'm not glad it happened for either one of the two boys, but I'm glad that this has forced this issue to come to the top of the list and to move toward resolution."
Morrison said that "while we are optimistic, [the ADL] will watch carefully what goes on. If we find that either school goes about this in a token way just to get this behind them, we will not be bashful in calling them on the carpet. . . . We want to make sure we make progress in both schools, and come away with the idea that bigotry can be challenged."
Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-701-7638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.