Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Around the Jewish World Discovery of Pornography Roils Prague’s Troubled Jewish School

November 10, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prague’s only Jewish school has been plunged into crisis following the discovery of hard-core pornography hidden on the school’s Internet server.

Police are investigating the find, which involves sexually explicit images downloaded from as far back as December. The material was found some weeks ago by the school’s new Web site administrator.

An unnamed senior teacher recently was fired following the discovery at the Lauder Jewish community school, which houses both a high school and an elementary school in a single building. But the move sparked an angry reaction from the school’s teachers, who claim that their colleague had nothing to do with the material.

More than 20 teachers of the school’s teaching staff of 28 went on strike this week to protest the dismissal, claiming that a Web site administrator previously connected to the school had claimed responsibility for the pornography.

The protesters are calling on the school principal, Vera Dvorakova, to resign.

“We are protesting because the teacher who was dismissed was not responsible for the material that was on the server,” teacher Katerina Dejmalova said. “We want Mrs. Dvorakova to resign and a new principal to be appointed.”

Dvorakova was not available for comment.

The issue has made it to the highest levels of Prague’s Jewish community, which founded the school in 1997. Senior Jewish community representatives voted earlier this week not to remove Dvorakova from the school, which is partly funded by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

The teachers, who say they have the support of the vast majority of pupils, agreed to halt their strike temporarily after learning that George Ban, vice president and CEO of the Lauder foundation, is to visit Prague next week to try to resolve the situation.

This is the second major crisis to engulf the school in recent months. Last April, dozens of students, teachers and parents demonstrated outside the Jewish community’s headquarters in a heated dispute over the selection of Dvorakova as principal.

The demonstrators claimed that the city’s Jewish leaders had imposed their own choice of principal, and suggested that the selection process had not been handled fairly. They also called for “stability” at the school, which has had four principals since the start of the school session last year.

Jewish community insiders say the disputes at the school reflect a wider crisis in the community leadership.

“There has been a lot of division in the community this past year,” said one senior community member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This issue of the pornography in the school is only going to make matters worse.”

In a statement released last week, the foundation said it took the matter very seriously.

“Though it has not been proved that pornography data in the school computer net reached children or students, the foundation considers the very existence of these data at the school extremely seriously,” the statement said. “The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation supports steps preventing school youth” from accessing “damaging visual materials, and measures aimed at the identification of offenders.

“It is only natural that all procedures in this respect taken by the leadership of the Jewish schools in Prague and by their founder, the Jewish Community of Prague, must be strictly within the Czech law and based on the principle of presumption of innocence,” the statement said. “The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation expresses its hope that the unfortunate case will be settled soon and that the Jewish schools in Prague will resume their normal life.”

Prague Jewish Community chairman Tomas Jelinek said Dvorakova had acted in students’ best interests. Though there was no direct evidence that the dismissed teacher had accessed the pornographic material, he had been held responsible as a senior member of the staff, Jelinek said.

“Mrs. Dvorakova acted according to Czech laws and sought appropriate legal and expert advice,” he said.

Jelinek said it was unfortunate that the teachers had decided to go on strike over the dismissal, saying the pupils “should not be held ransom” by the teachers.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “the Lauder School can be praised for their bravery in acting so strongly against this dangerous material. This school cares about its kids.”

Recommended from JTA