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Fallout Continues from Porn Find at Prague’s Single Jewish School

“I feel I’m a victim of Jewish politics in Prague,” Vera Dvorakova says as she sits in a downtown Prague cafe, nervously toying with a cup of coffee.

Dismissed as the principal of the city’s Lauder school last month after revealing the existence of pornography on the school’s Internet server, Dvorakova’s interview with JTA last week was the first time she discussed her turbulent six months as principal of the Czech Republic’s only Jewish school.

Dvorakova, who was head of the Jewish community’s secretarial services department until her appointment as principal last May, was removed from her post in a narrow vote by the community’s representative board, ostensibly because of her handling of the pornography scandal.

She was criticized for firing Petr Karas, who was acting principal when the extreme and “deviant” pornography, as Dvorakova describes it, was downloaded from the Internet to the school server from December 2002.

Prague police said this week that they are still investigating who was responsible for downloading the material and whether a crime was committed.

Karas has been reinstated as a teacher by the new acting principal, Katerina Dejmalova, a newcomer to the school who led a teachers’ strike to force Dvorakova’s ouster.

Dvorakova says she felt obliged to talk to the Jewish press to counter “lies” spread about Karas’ dismissal.

“As leader of the school, Mr. Karas took no steps to destroy this data and investigate why this data had appeared at the school. That is why he was dismissed,” she says.

Karas told JTA last week that he had not known about the pornography and that a former Internet administrator at the school had admitted responsibility for downloading it.

“I was blamed for it and painted in black,” he said, “but I didn’t know anything about it.”

Dvorakova says Karas must have been aware of the material because a huge amount of images and videos were downloaded.

She says she is devastated by her dismissal.

“The principal who found deviant pornography was dismissed, and nobody has been punished for downloading it,” she says. “What do you think about that?”

She says the porn find was only an excuse used by disaffected teachers and those with vested interests in the Jewish community board, which runs the school, to take over the establishment and install their own people to run it.

Dejmalova, the new principal, denied that protests by teachers and students were aimed at Dvorakova.

“They were protesting against the way Mr. Karas was dismissed,” she said. “He was a very serious and excellent teacher and was liked. Mrs. Dvorakova made a fatal mistake” in dismissing him.

Dvorakova, however, says the campaign against her started long before the porn find.

“There have been so many lies told since I started at the Lauder school,” she says.

Dvorakova was offered a teaching post at the school after her dismissal, but she is taking sick leave until she feels well enough emotionally to decide her future.

“After just four days, anonymous letters were sent questioning my education and skills,” she says, though she has 20 years experience as a teacher. “Then, some of the teachers started helping students to distribute the letters. People started to call me a secretary, suggesting I was not fit to run the school.”

Dvorakova also notes that other principals had been chased out by teachers and students, including Karas’ predecessor, who resigned in November 2002 after just 48 hours on the job.

Dvorakova, the school’s eighth principal in the span of just a few school sessions, also is angry that Karas’ father, who sits on the community board, was not asked to recuse himself from the vote deciding her future.

Jewish community chairman Tomas Jelinek said a report by state inspectors who visited the school recently “showed no irregularities during Mrs. Dvorakova’s tenure, and even found some improvements during her brief time at the school.”

Jelinek said he was disappointed that the board had not been able to find a compromise regarding Dvorakova’s position. He also said he is particularly concerned that those who led the revolt against Dvorakova now are running the school.

“This is unfortunate for the institution. From the very beginning Mrs. Dvorakova was facing opposition from a faction of teachers, and these teachers were pressing the board,” he said. “I personally expect that this kind of revolt will happen again in the future because those people behind it know that if they push the board, they will get whatever they want.”

Leo Pavlat, advisor to the Lauder Foundation in Prague, which co-sponsors the school, said the focus should remain firmly on educational issues.

“This is a very unfortunate case that caused damage both to the Jewish schools in Prague and to the Jewish community of Prague,” he said. “The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation strongly supports Jewish education. This is its main goal that must always be at the forefront of attention, over and above personnel and other problems.”

But Dvorakova says the real reason for her dismissal lies in opposition within the Jewish community to a reform process — both in the school and in the wider community — launched by Jelinek.

“There is a group of people who think the community belongs to them and they are not willing to accept any changes, or accept anyone else who isn’t in their group,” she said.

Jelinek faces a challenge to his leadership in the spring.

But Pavlat, who is a member of the community’s leadership, said that the unrest at the school was not part of any wider crisis in the community.

On the contrary, he said only “a temporary commotion was caused by the situation at the school. These days, however, I have all reason to believe the leadership of the Jewish community of Prague has overcome the recent difficult situation and is prepared to fully cooperate in the future.”

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