New dean at Michigan school resigns over antisemitic death threat

Anonymous threat sent to administrator leads school district near Detroit to go into lockdown, cancel classes for a week

Illustrative: Empty desks at a junior high school in California, October 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
Illustrative: Empty desks at a junior high school in California, October 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

JTA — A newly hired dean of students for a Michigan middle school resigned after only nine school days on the job after receiving an anonymous antisemitic death threat.

The threat sent the district into lockdown and contributed to the decision to cancel classes during the first week of the year.

Michael Woodberg was hired by Richmond Community Schools, a rural district north of Detroit, in December. But in early January the district received a series of disturbing and violent threats directed at staff. The first one, on January 3, took the form of a physical note discovered in one of the district’s buildings, targeting Woodberg specifically with antisemitic language and including details about his family and personal information.

District superintendent Brian Walmsley closed schools for the first week of the winter semester in response, alerting parents to the nature of the antisemitic threat, as well as to another threat made by email against a different administrator on January 8. When the district reopened without Woodberg, local police were a heavy presence.

“The Dean of Students position was, as Mr. Woodberg stated, ‘a dream job,’” Walmsley wrote in an email to parents on January 8. “He was excited for his first administrative experience and [to] work with outstanding administrators, teachers, and support staff – all dedicated to the success of students.

“As you can imagine, the threat affected Mr. Woodberg and his family and permanently changed the way they operate and view the environment around them,” the letter continued. “While Mr. Woodberg is going to be missed, I support the decision he made for his family and himself and wish him nothing but health, happiness, and success in his future endeavors.”

In an earlier letter to parents, Walmsley had said that he had already intended to close school for the first week of classes anyway, due to district staffing shortages, but that the threat gave additional cause to do so.

Walmsley did not respond to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment. Woodberg, who previously worked at West Bloomfield School District in a heavily Jewish Detroit suburb, declined to comment to the Detroit Jewish News.

The incident was condemned by Detroit Jewish federation CEO Steven Ingber, who told the Jewish News, “The recent incident at Richmond Community Schools is deeply disturbing and yet another reminder of the prevalence of antisemitism in our society today.” The federation has been in touch with the district, Ingber said.

The mayor of Richmond also condemned the threats this week during a city council meeting, while praising ongoing police efforts to identify the culprit. “These threats are not reflective of the Richmond community,” Mayor Tim Rix said, according to local reports. “We have a great community made up of residents, families, businesses, schools and organizations which all work together to make Richmond a place we all call our hometown. The actions of one or a few will not drag our community down.”

Two days after Walmsley alerted parents to the antisemitic threat, he told them a third threat had been made in the district, this one a shooting threat made on behalf of a middle school student. The district closed school for an additional day in response to the threat. Richmond is 30 miles east of Oxford High School, where a student shooter armed with his parents’ gun murdered four classmates and injured seven others in 2021.

Elsewhere in the Detroit area last month, local law enforcement were criticized for failing to immediately arrest a man who had videotaped himself making antisemitic threats outside a synagogue preschool.

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