More than 200 alumni, faculty and students have signed a letter to The Park School of Baltimore condemning the school’s decision to abruptly cancel an assembly about the war between Israel and Hamas, calling the school’s actions censorship and the antithesis of its longstanding progressive values.

The group, called Park Alumni Against Censorship, is demanding the Baltimore County private school take a series of actions that include rescheduling the assembly, having a public airing of the issues surrounding the controversy and holding school leaders accountable. “The entire Park School community is entitled to a granular explanation of a move that appears to have violated the core principles by which the institution has operated since its founding,” the letter said.

The cancellation of the assembly was just the beginning of a day of turmoil at the school last month. After learning a talk from two Swarthmore College professors had been canceled the night before, students arranged a discussion on Zoom with the speakers. But the school administration shut down Zoom on its network, cutting them off mid-conversation. The school day then dissolved into protests with some students leaving school and others walking the halls to meet with faculty.

“This does a great disservice to Park students: How does censorship — of all things — promote the values Park espouses?” the letter from alumni said, adding that they believe students cannot become responsible citizens “if their access to a full range of perspectives is censored.”

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The group is calling for the school leadership to hold Dan Paradis, the head of school, accountable, potentially firing him. “Paradis and others have acted with authoritarian recklessness ... and created a hostile environment for students who are Palestinian, Arab, or simply disagree with the single perspective they’ve been presented thus far,” the letter said.

In email to the school community, Paradis wrote that the assembly was canceled because the speakers “express views and use rhetoric that are not in keeping with what we understood to be their planned program.” Paradis wrote that he wants students to be engaged in difficult conversations but added, “We must find ways to do so that yield constructive, not corrosive or harmful, dialogue.”

Paradis did not explain what views the school found objectionable enough to cancel the assembly. School leaders also did not answer The Banner’s questions about the event and its aftermath.

Pete Hilsee, a spokesperson for The Park School, said in an email that an action plan has been shared with parents of Upper School, or high school, students. The school will review its process for vetting speakers, research organizations that can help create “constructive dialogue across differences” and bring in “a multiplicity of voices” to explain the history and conflict in the Middle East, Hilsee said.

The Park alumni group believes that the assembly was canceled because one of the speakers was Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian who has been outspoken about the war. He is an associate professor and chair of the peace and conflict studies department at Swarthmore, a liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia. The other speaker was Moriel Rothman-Zecher, a Jewish Israeli citizen who is a visiting assistant professor of creative writing and a novelist.

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The Park Alumni Against Censorship letter, sent to the school leadership on Monday, is signed primarily by alumni, but current Park seniors, former faculty and parents have also lent their names for support. The alumni who organized the group and wrote the letter posted it on Instagram.

Jonathon Ross, a parent who signed the letter, said the school has not yet taken enough action to bring a diversity of voices to the school community. “From where I sit, it seems as though there is an attempt to silence a line of thought,” he said. “It seems the conversation has been one-sided, putting one agenda over another.”

He believes the administration made a series of poor decisions, including canceling the speakers and then shutting off the Zoom call. “These are horrific overreactions.”

Ross said he wants the school to live up to its stated mission.

When Lauren Leffer, a 2012 graduate, read about the string of events at the Park School in The Baltimore Banner, she was “enraged.”

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”It was very much in violation with my idea of what Park School represents and I believe the school was about when I attended as a student,” she said.

Leffer shared the story on social media and called for fellow alumni to put together a response to the school “because I think there’s a lot of power in collective response, and I knew I wasn’t the only one who was going to be upset.”

She was right. Soon enough, she garnered a large group of alumni who wanted to take action. Regardless of where they stood on debates about Hamas and Israel, they agreed that how the school handled it went against what they were taught.

“It’s not meant to be a commentary on the global issue, as much as it’s supposed to be commentary on a specific series of events that took place,” Leffer said.

Questioning authority and understanding how to engage critically with the world was a huge part of Blake Pruitt’s education at Park.

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”The tactics being used by the administration felt like they were completely counteracting all of what we learned,” the 2011 graduate said.

About 20 alumni were part of the group that drafted the letter, according to 2012 graduate Isabella Lee.

Leffer said they hope to at least start a conversation “to see where they stand and what they’re willing to move forward with doing.”

”We’re hopeful at this point that the school approaches our letter with an open mind, understands that it’s coming from a place of wanting to see the Park community be the best that it can be,” said Leffer.

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