Students, administrators at DC’s Jackson-Reed High School debate Palestinian documentary screening

Parents and students at Jackson Reed High School in Northwest D.C. shared a letter with administrators after an attempt by the school’s Arab Student Union to show a documentary on Palestine was shut down by the principal.

The letter, sent to Principal Sah Brown and shared unsigned with WTOP, comes amid increased challenges for educators around the region pertaining to the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

“We believe in the importance of promoting critical thinking, fostering cultural understanding, and encouraging respectful dialogue within our school community,” the letter reads. “By allowing the screening of this documentary, Jackson Reed High School can demonstrate its commitment to these values.”

Administrators responding to the letter, and increasing concern for students, said the planned screening of the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind” was unsanctioned.

“As soon as I became fully aware of the situation, I took immediate action, including removing flyers promoting this unsanctioned activity,” Principal Brown said in a Dec. 18 message to the community. “I subsequently met with the club’s sponsor and the students, discussed the proper process for event approval, and reiterated clear expectations for the club moving forward.”

Even so, the group’s letter requests that Brown allow for the screening of the film because they believe the documentary helps to promote understanding “and awareness about the complexities surrounding Israel’s power and influence in shaping the American media’s reporting on its occupation of Palestinian territories.”

“We kindly request that the administration reconsider its decision and grant the Arab Student Union permission to host the screening of ‘The Occupation of the American Mind’ within the school premises,” the letter reads. “We are confident that this event will contribute positively to the educational experience of our students and create an opportunity for meaningful discussions.”

A petition to encourage screening the film was shared by the student union on Dec. 12 and has garnered just over 450 signatures by Wednesday morning. Brown called this response and other online communications unfortunate, telling the community that administrators “are actively addressing and responding to this situation.”

“We have taken measures to halt the dissemination of these messages,” Brown wrote, referring to online messages that were not school-sponsored and deceptive posts that used a #JRHS hashtag. He did not share the content of these social media posts in his statement.

“While we encourage students to form their own opinions and advocate for their beliefs, we will not tolerate messages of hate or division that aim to disrupt our inclusive community,” the principal said of the posts.

Brown also told students that the evolving state of the Israel-Hamas war would continue to be a prominent topic for the school community.

“As we continue to learn and grow collaboratively, I hope our collective wisdom will lead us all in a positive direction this new year,” Brown said.

The film, narrated by Roger Waters, calls itself an exploration of how Israel, the U.S. and pro-Israel lobbyists have shaped American media coverage in favor of Israel’s position on the decadeslong conflict. Co-directors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, alongside executive producer Sut Jhally, called the movie necessary, and claimed that “American democracy deserves better” than the current media ecosystem.

“We made this film for a very simple reason: because we believe government officials and mainstream media elites are denying the American people the basic information they need to make sense of one of the most consequential conflicts in the world,” the filmmakers said. “Regardless of where the American people stand on this conflict, we believe they deserve better.”

School administrators have not outlined plans to host this event in the near future, though Brown said more information would be shared with students in the interest of continued transparency with the community.

“One action we are taking is creating space for students to share their thoughts and hear multiple perspectives regarding recent events,” Brown shared in her note to families. “The details of this facilitated discussion are still underway, and we plan to schedule it as soon as possible.”

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Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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