Educator resigns shortly after starting new position at Richmond Community Schools due to death threat targeting his family.

Nine days after he was hired for the position of middle school dean of students for Richmond Community Schools in Macomb County, educator Michael Woodberg resigned after receiving anonymous written antisemitic threats to him and his family if he kept his post.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Woodberg for 12 years was a special education teacher in West Bloomfield Schools, where he also coached sports.

The JN contacted Woodberg, who did not want to make a comment at this time.

Steven Ingber

In a statement released to the JN, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit CEO Steven Ingber said: “The recent incident at Richmond Community Schools is deeply disturbing and yet another reminder of the prevalence of antisemitism in our society today. As soon as the Jewish Federation was made aware of the situation, we reached out to the school district and conveyed our support for the victim and his family. We will continue to be available to them — along with Jewish Community Security Inc. and ADL Michigan.”

Brian J. Walmsley
Brian J. Walmsley

In a series of letters to district families that were available to the public on the district’s website, Richmond Community Schools Superintendent Brian J. Walmsley kept communications open to the changing situation, only revealing Woodberg’s name more than a week after Woodberg was threatened.

On Jan. 3, Walmsley wrote to district families that due to chronic staffing shortages that he and other school personnel officials attempted to correct by making several hires over the holiday break, it was always his original intent to keep schools closed the first week of January to allow for new staff to acclimate themselves and prepare their lessons even before he was alerted to the threats.

“There is no secret that districts across the state have vacancies due to the massive teacher shortage that has been building for years, and Richmond is no different,” the Jan. 3 letter stated. “Over the holiday break, my team has been busy interviewing and processing new hires to begin after the new year. … The cancellation was to allow new hires and individuals moving positions time to organize and prepare appropriate lessons for students after the break. It was also to provide additional time for my administrative team to contact substitutes to fill vacancies.”

Walmsley continued: “A situation occurred at the beginning of (today) that required the involvement of the Richmond Police Department. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., members of my administrative team brought to my attention a written ‘death threat’ that was discovered upon their return from the holiday break. The ‘death threat’ note not only threatened the safety of an employee, but their spouse and children, and included personal information. The individual identified in the note has been notified.”

Once informed, the district went into lockdown, and the Richmond Police Department was called. The threat gave a second justification to cancel classes and after-school activity for the remainder of the week, through Jan. 6.

Updating the district, Walmsley offered more detailed information in a Jan. 5 letter that stated: “The note was an antisemitic death threat … Most disturbing was the personal information and specific date indicated in the note. While the written threat named a specific employee, its message and intent affects all employees. Therefore, I made the decision to close school through Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. We should not lose perspective that a person’s life was threatened.”

In the Jan. 5 letter, Walmsley wrote that the district has “fully cooperated with the officers at the Richmond Police Department and Chief of Police Tom Costello, providing investigators the antisemitic death threat note, access to security camera footage from multiple cameras in the building, log entry records of individuals utilizing the security swipe card readers for entrance to the building and restricted areas, names of individuals who work in Richmond Middle School or have access to the building, and names of individuals who have keys to the area where the note was found, including those individuals who work in other buildings with district grand master keys.

The district also provided log entry records of district copiers and fingerprints of some employees have been taken by the Richmond Police. These fingerprints, along with the antisemitic death threat note, are in the police crime lab in Lansing for analysis.”

The letter continues, “The distress this incident has cause employees, students and parents/guardians, and the stress families have undergone over the past 48 hours is beyond measurable,” wrote Walmsley. “Richmond Community Schools has no tolerance for discrimination or acts of hate in our community and encourages respectful dialogue. …  the district takes swift action toward students who violate our zero-tolerance policy.

“I call on the silent majority in our community to hold accountable the adults who speak of acceptance, but demonstrate otherwise through hate and malicious speech, particularly on social media.”

More Updates to the Community

On Jan. 8, Walmsley revealed that the target of the threatening antisemitic letter was Michael Woodberg and his family. Woodberg began his position on Dec. 13, 2022, and resigned before the start of the new year.

Walmsley, saying that Woodberg described the position as his “dream job,” wrote: “Woodberg was excited for his first administrative experience and work with outstanding administrators, teachers and support staff — all dedicated to the success of students. He was equally excited to build relationships with the middle school students, who warmly welcomed him from day one.

“As you can imagine, the threat affected Mr. Woodberg and his family and permanently changed the way they operate and view the environment around them. While Mr. Woodberg is going to be missed, I support the decision he made for his family and himself and wish him nothing but health, happiness and success in his future endeavors.”

In his Jan. 8 letter, Walmsley wrote of a second threat, this time in an email received by an unnamed staff member on Friday, Jan. 6.
The email indicated that the staff person would be harmed if they did not resign.

Walmsley stated: “While this had personal information and threatened to harm specific individuals, it was different from the previous threat in that it came from an anonymous email and was not left in the building. The police were immediately notified, and an investigation was launched regarding the second threat. Police did not find any evidence in the threatened teacher’s classroom.”

The statement from the superintendent continued: “Late last night, I had a telephone conversation with Chief Costello regarding the latest incident and opening school. After consulting with the police, I determined that school would open as planned. Prior to the latest threat, school and police officials determined they would have opened the school with uniformed officers in each of the district’s three buildings. The police officers are monitoring the safety of the students and staff and security of the building.”

‘Antisemitism Unpacked’

According to an audit released in April 2022 by the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism.

At press time, the organization’s hate-tracking page has already listed over one dozen hate acts against Jews in 2023, including the incident at Richmond Community Schools. Locally, Jews have endured threats most recently at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township and additional threats with anti-Jewish undertones, which were called in by a teen to Oxford High School.

Because of this climate, Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield, in partnership with ADL, will hold “Antisemitism Unpacked,” a community forum at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30. Ryan Woloshin, national ADL associate director of antisemitism programs, will speak.

Rabbi Steven Rubenstein
Rabbi Steven Rubenstein

“We asked the ADL to run this program because I’ve heard several stories recently from congregants and others about encountering antisemitism,” said Beth Ahm Rabbi Steven Rubenstein. “These incidents haven’t been very threatening; in fact, sometimes it isn’t even clear if the offending person is being antisemitic or not. Jews are encountering jokes, comments and other actions, but they are caught off guard and aren’t sure how to respond.

“My hope is that this program will help people feel a greater degree of control of situations and give them some ideas of how to respond to situations in which they might find themselves.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com