Support for Global Suffering 

An educator urges 4J not to sanction a teacher for displaying a Palestinian flag

By Cengiz Zopluoglu

As a parent of a Spencer Butte Middle School student and a member of this community, I find myself compelled to address a recent incident that strikes at the heart of the values we cherish.

It has come to my attention that Jenoge Khatter, a dedicated educator known for his commitment to fostering inclusivity and understanding, faced a directive to remove a Palestine flag — a symbol of solidarity with the suffering of people in Gaza — from his classroom. 

This directive, coupled with the threat of termination for non-compliance, is alarming not only for its implications on Khatter’s freedom of expression but also for the message it sends to our students about the bounds of empathy and dialogue. 

Khatter has played a pivotal role at Spencer Butte, notably through his leadership of the Asian Pacific American Student Union, which has been a sanctuary of inclusion for my daughter and her peers. In a world where the sense of being understood and accepted is not guaranteed,

Khatter’s efforts have illuminated paths of compassion and solidarity.

The decision to censor a gesture of support for global suffering — irrespective of the intricate politics that envelop it — raises significant concerns. It suggests a retreat from our commitment to nurture a culture of open dialogue, critical engagement and empathy.

Education, at its essence, is about broadening horizons, encouraging the pursuit of diverse perspectives, and cultivating informed, empathetic citizens. To stifle such expressions is to undermine these objectives, hindering our children’s growth into conscientious global citizens.

The principle of freedom of speech is a bedrock of our democracy, deserving of staunch protection, especially within the halls of education. Our schools should be bastions of free expression, where diverse voices are heard and explored, not silenced. The action taken against Khatter sends a disquieting message to my daughter and her classmates about the limits of empathy and the risks of standing in solidarity with those who suffer.

In light of these considerations, I urge the Eugene 4J School District board members to reassess the measures taken against Khatter and reflect on their broader implications for our school’s mission and values. Let us demonstrate to our children the importance of empathy, understanding and the respectful exchange of ideas, even — and especially — in the face of complex global issues.

I appreciate the community’s attention to this matter and remain hopeful for a resolution that reaffirms our shared commitment to freedom, inclusivity and the enriching power of education.

Cengiz Zopluoglu is an associate professor at the University of Oregon and the parent of a Spencer Butte Middle School student. 

Editor’s Note: Community members have said they plan to speak about the issue during the public comment portion of the 7 pm April 3 Eugene 4J School Board meeting. 

Eugene Weekly reached out to Board Chair Maya Rabasa, who says she is hoping to request both a review of how the decision was made and a review of the relevant policies that led to it.