WHITESVILLE — The world may not see a Whitesville Central School District teacher’s “complete” comment about Adolf Hitler after all.
High school social studies teacher Jeff Acor appeared to praise Hitler in a statement attributed to him in the 2018-19 yearbook, calling the deceased Nazi dictator his favorite person in history and “arguably the greatest speaker in the history of the world,” as well as someone who “did many great things for Germany and their youth before the infamous Holocaust.”
The controversial comments made international news, caught the attention of a Jewish anti-hate organization and caused district officials to confiscate yearbooks last month.
Former Whitesville Superintendent Laurie Sanders told the Olean Times Herald June 27 that a new yearbook will be printed and distributed with Acor’s “complete statement” about Hitler, noting the previous statement was “incomplete” and “taken out of context.”
However, new Whitesville Superintendent Tammy Emery told the Times Herald via email Tuesday that “no decisions have been made concerning the reprint of the yearbook,” adding district officials are continuing to investigate.
Emery, a former Whitesville principal, was hired by the district’s board of education to succeed Sanders on June 18, prior to any media coverage of the yearbook controversy. Emery officially took over July 1 and Sanders is now the deputy superintendent.
Emery and Sanders have a new statement on the district’s website.
“Any message that may promote or condone hate, regardless of intent, has no place in our school. The District remains committed to tolerance, mutual respect and dignity for all persons,” their statement reads. “Be assured that we are reviewing the entire matter with all of our attention and steps are being taken so that it does not happen again.”
District officials have said the yearbook was produced by a student-run, after-school club with an adult adviser, noting they “try to give students the freedom and creative license to create and determine content.”
Acor’s statements in the yearbook were featured on what appears to be a page dedicated to teacher profiles. His comments, as well as his photo, are labeled “New Guy on the Block.” Acor, a 2005 graduate of Canisteo-Greenwood High School in Steuben County, was hired by the district just this past school year.
The profile introduces Acor as a new teacher, quoting him as saying he’s hopeful to “help the students at Whitesville grow into productive and knowledgeable citizens,” and that he has wanted to be a teacher since realizing in the first grade he “wouldn’t be able to play for the Buffalo Bills.”
The profile then states that when Acor was asked who his favorite person in history is, he replied, “Adolf Hitler, who did many great things for Germany and their youth before the infamous Holocaust.”
The rest of the profile then exclusively quotes Acor discussing Hitler, including comments like “Adolf was outed and faced hardships early in life which a lot of people can relate to,” and “Adolf made many great strides to make Germany a world super power.”
Acor has declined comment to the Times Herald.
Hitler and Nazi Germany perpetrated the Holocaust, a genocide in which more than six million European Jews were murdered.
U.S. anti-Semitic incidents increased 57 percent in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish anti-hate organization.
ADL’s New York-New Jersey office is looking into Acor’s comments. The regional office’s official Twitter account posted June 28 that it was reaching out to Whitesville for clarification about the issue.
Alexander Rosemberg, director of community affairs for ADL New York-New Jersey, told the Times Herald Tuesday ADL officials have made contact with Whitesville officials and were told the district is interested in exploring the possibly of partnering on programming.
Rosemberg noted it’s common for ADL to reach out to schools dealing with potential anti-Semitic incidents to offer anti-bias education, an activist curriculum approach that challenges prejudices.
“We’re in touch with them, we offered programming and we hope they get to the bottom of what exactly transpired and how this ended up being published,” he said.
Whitesville is the least racially diverse school district in Western New York, according to the most recent Diversity Index Rankings by Buffalo Business First. Whitesville is ranked at the bottom with five other Allegany County districts: Andover, Belfast, Fillmore, Canaseraga and Bolivar-Richburg.
The Whitesville student body is 99% white, as 193 out of the district’s 195 students were white during the 2017-18 school year, according to the New York State Education Department. Allegany County as a whole is 95.6% white, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Rosemberg said an individual praising a figure like Hitler is problematic and creates questions about that individual’s perspective. He said ADL supports freedom of speech — as long as there’s context.
“For example, we don’t oppose the publication of ‘Mein Kampf’ as a historical document for analysis, but we do advise that anyone who sells it should provide that context to buyers,” Rosemberg said, referring to Hitler’s 1925 autobiographical novel. “Same thing applies here. If you’re a history teacher and you’re teaching about a genocidal leader, you should provide the appropriate context and not just exalt the leadership.”
After Sanders said Acor’s “complete” statement would be included in a reprinted yearbook, many on social media questioned what Acor’s additional comments would be and whether those statements would actually give context to his praise of Hitler.
When asked about Whitesville’s decision to potentially not reprint Acor’s statement with additional comments, Rosemberg said, “I have more questions than answers at this point, but the main question I’d ask is: Is the yearbook the appropriate place to expand on that kind of statement? Is the yearbook, where you’re basically sending off the graduating class, the appropriate place to make a statement about history and leadership?”