Newton North High School’s principal has asked for assistance from the Anti-Defamation League after a series of incidents involving swastikas and “offensive posts” were reported at the school in recent weeks.
Principal Henry Turner announced the incidents and the school’s response in an e-mail sent Monday to families, students, and staff.
According to Turner’s email, a swastika was found by a teacher etched in the dirt near a softball field on Feb. 2.
The following day, two students reported they were involved in an incident of texting a photo to fellow students that showed a cartoon character pictured with a swastika.
Turner wrote that the two students who reported the Feb. 3 incident were apologetic and “owned their responsibility.”
He also described “hurtful, insensitive, and offensive posts” created by some students over the past few weeks that targeted students “on all sides of the political spectrum.” Some of the students involved in those cases have also apologized, he wrote.
“Both the incidents in our school, as well as national events, have created fear, anger, and tension among our students,” Turner wrote. “Because the swastika is such a profound symbol of hate and intolerance, I have reached out to the Newton Police and Anti-Defamation League to help us address these incidents, identify areas in which we can provide more instruction, and determine how we can best move forward as a school.”
Faculty and student groups will also work with school officials to address these issues, while officials look at revisions to the school’s anti-bullying curriculum help combat bias, he wrote. The Newton North School Council will also conduct family and community outreach.
“By focusing on developing empathy and respect for others, we help our students to counter and reject any hate or intolerance they may experience in our school or beyond,” Turner wrote.
Newton Superintendent David Fleishman said the district has a policy of notifying local police about any bias incidents in schools. “It’s really important that students feel safe in school,” said Fleishman.
He said students in Newton schools are encouraged to seek out different viewpoints and learn to respect them.
But students will make mistakes, and Fleishman said officials will address incidents involving anti-Semitism or harassment directly.
“Is it frustrating to have these incidents? Yes,” said Fleishman, later adding that the district will call out inappropriate student behavior. “We have to point out when actions violate our core values,” he said.
Newton police Lieutenant Bruce Apotheker said that any reports of bias-related incidents are disturbing, and police are investigating.
Apotheker is the city’s civil rights officer, and also serves on the Newton Human Rights Commission. He said police work with the commission, the school department, the Ant-Defamation League, and the mayor’s office to respond to these incidents.
“For us, these incidents are like a cancer. We don’t want them to grow,” said Apotheker.
The incidents come after a string of hate incidents were reported at Newton North and other schools in the city over the past year.
In September, a group of students were caught on video as they flew the Confederate flag from a car window while driving on Newton North’s parking lot. A subsequent investigation found the students involved violated school district policies.
Last March, anti-Semitic graffiti was reported at Newton North following a basketball game the previous week at which students from rival school Catholic Memorial chanted “You killed Jesus” at the Newton North student section.
A leadership club for African-American students at Newton North also received racists comments through a website in February 2016. Anti-Semitic graffiti was also reported at the school in late 2015.
In spring 2016, the principal of the F. A. Day Middle School failed to immediately report two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti to local police.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.