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Swastika with ‘No’ found etched into fence near Reading Memorial High

Police are investigating the discovery of a swastika on a fence near Reading Memorial High School last weekend, according to the town’s superintendent of schools.

The graffiti was etched into a fence on Oakland Road, adjacent to the south side of the high school. The swastika symbol was “enclosed in the shape of a window, with the word ‘no’ in front of it,” Reading Public Schools Superintendent John F. Doherty said in a statement earlier this week.

The graffiti was found months after two other swastikas were reported at Reading schools. On May 4, students at the high school found a swastika drawn in blue permanent marker on a classroom floor, according to a statement at the time from Doherty and other town officials.

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And on May 24, a swastika and additional graffiti were found drawn with a pen on the wall of a bathroom in the high school’s field house, the town officials said.

“There is no place for these types of hateful actions in the Reading Public Schools or in our community,” Doherty said in the statement Tuesday.

Following the two May incidents, Doherty said, he and Deputy Police Chief David Clarke met in June with members of the town’s Jewish community regarding the graffiti. He also said that the school department updated its bullying prevention plan “to address issues of bullying, harassment, and bias incidents.”

Additionally, Doherty said in his Tuesday statement that the town and schools are working with the Anti-Defamation League to “create a more inclusive community that respects differences.” The Reading Clergy Association is planning events for the fall that will address the issue, he said.

“Although this graffiti incident happened outside of the school year, we will continue to use these situations as teachable moments for our students and help them understand the impact of these types of hateful actions and poor decisions,” Doherty said.

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It was unclear whether the graffiti found last weekend was meant to support or condemn the swastika, Anti-Defamation League New England Regional Director Robert Trestan said, but he commended the Reading community for its response to the discoveries.

“It’s hard to determine whether the swastika was there before and then somebody came after and put the word ‘No,’ or if it was there all along,” Trestan said. “The positive thing that comes out of it regardless is that somebody saw it, somebody reported it, and the school is being transparent, supportive, and responsible.”

In a telephone interview Friday, Doherty said it was “difficult to say” what the intent of the graffiti was, but he said hate symbols would not be tolerated. He also said the window shape had appeared in previous instances of graffiti at the high school.

“I had seen that one before,” Doherty said. “What I had not seen was the word ‘no’ in front of it.”

“I think people are obviously concerned about what has been happening, and people are willing and able to work together to address these issues,” Doherty said Friday. “We’re addressing this head on.”

Trestan was also supportive of Reading’s response.

“If you look at the incidents that were reported in the spring and also the one last weekend, this is a committed community, this is a united community, and we should be applauding them for their commitment in dealing with these issues,” he said. “In this case, this community is an example for others.”

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Doherty said that anyone with questions or information could contact the Reading Police Department at 781-944-1212.

Reading police did not respond to a request for comment Friday.


Ben Thompson can be reached at ben.thompson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Globe_Thompson.