A Reading Memorial High School student on Friday discovered two swastikas drawn in pencil on the leg of a science lab bench, prompting a swift response from school and police officials who removed the hate symbols and launched an investigation, Principal Kathleen M. Boynton said.
She confirmed details of the disturbing incident in a letter to families and staff posted to the Reading Public Schools website Saturday.
“There was no threat written as part of the graffiti,” Boynton wrote. “Administration documented the images and the incident response protocol was initiated: The Superintendent, Reading Police and Facilities Department were all notified. The images were removed and a thorough sweep of all furniture in that classroom as well as other classrooms in the building was conducted. No additional images were found. While this is an ongoing investigation, we are uncertain when the images were drawn because the graffiti was not in an obvious location.”
The incident Friday followed a prior case in June, when another student discovered the message “Gas the Jews” written in marker on a brick inside a vestibule in the Walter S. Parker Middle School lobby.
Officials at the time said the June vandalism was the latest of more than a dozen anti-Semitic incidents at local public schools in Reading over the prior year.
Boynton referenced the town’s prior troubles in her letter to families on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, we continue to have these graffiti related incidents in our schools and in our community,” she wrote. “The swastika symbolizes hate and anti-Semitism and there is no place for these types of hateful actions or behaviors in our schools or in the greater Reading community. The actions of one person cannot be allowed to overshadow the tremendous kindness, respect, empathy and acceptance our students, staff and greater RMHS community embody every day inside and outside of the classroom.”
The principal said the school district has taken a proactive approach to addressing the issue.
“Over the past few years, RMHS staff has focused our efforts on making our core values of Respect, Responsibility, Perseverance and Scholarship come to life as we continue to build a community that embraces diversity,” Boynton wrote. “Last year, Dr. Anna Ornstein, a holocaust survivor spoke with students at an assembly hosted by our student club A World of Difference, which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.”
She said students and staff also “trained as upstanders and RMHS hosted the Unity Project, a very powerful interactive public art project about embracing difference. This year, we began the year with Community Day, which was an entire day devoted to our core values and to building a positive RMHS community.”
In addition, Boynton wrote, there’s “further training planned this year for our A World of Difference Club along with several other student leadership organizations such as our Peer Leaders, Rocket Ambassadors and Student Council. We seek to find those responsible for these acts and we must continue to educate our entire community if we hope to prevent these acts from reoccurring.”
Boynton said students on Monday at the high school will be notified of the last week’s vandalism and asked to provide any information that may help authorities identify the perpetrator.
“We will continue to use situations like these as teachable moments to help students understand the impact of these hateful acts and to reinforce our core values of respect and responsibility along with kindness, empathy and acceptance,” Boynton wrote. “We will continue to work closely with the Reading Police Department, the Superintendent and the Town of Reading to address this and any future issues. If you have any questions, concerns or information about this incident, please do not hesitate to contact me.”