Metro

Newton mayor to broaden efforts against prejudice

Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe/FILE

Newton Mayor Setti Warren spoke at a community forum held on April 7.

NEWTON — Mayor Setti Warren says he plans to expand efforts to combat anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, and other types of prejudice in response to hateful graffiti and other incidents in Newton’s public schools.

“I’ll be announcing a major program in the coming weeks that will be continual, year round, in all parts of our community, for people of all ages and backgrounds to address all forms of prejudice,” Warren said in an interview late last week.

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A community forum held April 7 was just the first step in addressing ways to make Newton a comfortable place for people of all backgrounds to live, Warren said. Some speakers at the forum asserted the city was not doing enough to address anti-Semitism in the schools.

Warren said civil rights attorney Richard Cole is already working with police and will hold training sessions with school administrators and staff on how to deal with all types of discrimination, civil rights issues, and hate speech.

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“That is happening right now,” Warren said. “And beyond this, he’s going to make specific recommendations on revising, updating, and strengthening our policies and protocols surrounding civil rights and hate crime.”

Cole was hired by Warren soon after the mayor, the Police Department, Anti-Defamation League, and School Committee members received an anonymous letter in late February about anti-Semitic graffiti at Day Middle School that had gone unreported by the principal.

Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Warren is on the right track to focus the conversation not only in the schools, but also citywide.

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“A rash of anti-Semitic incidents in the Newton schools has to include a broader approach, and include the community in the conversation,” Trestan said. “There’s no short-term fix to working on the issue. It’s going to take time, commitment, and hard work in the schools and citywide. It will not simply go away.”

Warren said the first he heard about the graffiti at Day Middle School was when his office received the anonymous letter with photographs of “Burn the Jews” scrawled on a bathroom wall and a swastika stomped into the snow on property just off the school campus.

The incidents occurred in October and January, and principal Brian Turner later apologized to the Day community for not immediately reporting them.

An outside investigator was hired by the School Department to review how the graffiti incidents were handled. That report is now complete, and the Globe has requested a copy under the state’s public records law. School Superintendent David Fleishman said he has been advised by the department’s lawyer that the report is not public because it deals with personnel.

He also declined to answer questions about whether Turner faced any disciplinary actions or whether his contract will be renewed after the principal failed to follow guidelines requiring the reporting of such incidents to police.

Fleishman said he is on board with the mayor’s initiative. “We are deeply committed to ensuring that our schools are safe, healthy, and positive environments for all,” he said.

“Our entire team of administrators has been engaged in a professional development series on leading Courageous Conversations about Race,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenish1.
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