A swastika was discovered written on a chair in the Somers High School library on Jan. 31.
After the evidence was documented, a custodian used a cleaning solvent to remove the symbol, an email to parents stated.
“We are deeply disappointed that anyone in our community would vandalize school property with such a despicable symbol of hatred and intolerance,” principal Mark Bayer and Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch stated in the Jan. 31 email. “As a school and district, we will not tolerate this behavior and our administrative team will investigate it thoroughly.”
The school officials also encouraged parents to talk to their children about “our values as an inclusive community.”
They noted that due to the location of the symbol, the district’s investigation will rely upon student information.
“We greatly appreciate the immediate action taken by the student who discovered the symbol,” the email stated. “Please encourage your child to speak to an administrator immediately if he or she has any further information that could help us identify the student responsible.”
On Feb. 1, Bayer sent a follow up letter to parents and explained part of the investigation process.
“We interview students, partner with law enforcement, and verify any information that we obtain,” explained Bayer, who again condemned the act.
“It is up to us as a community to stand up against these acts of intolerance, to send an unequivocal message that we will not allow this behavior in our schools or anywhere else,” the principal wrote.
Elizabeth Lavine Russell, a parent at the school, said she is “disgusted and saddened to see yet another symbol of hatred and intolerance in my children’s learning environment.”
Russell, who is Jewish, has a 16-year-old sophomore daughter and 15-year-old freshman son at Somers High School.
“School should be a warm, welcoming, safe space for all students, no matter race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.,” Russell said. “I applaud Mark Bayer for his quick note to parents with information and hope the child who did this receives the education necessary to understand how harmful a symbol can be.”
Millie Jasper, executive director of the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center in White Plains, said in a statement that the center has reached out to the school district and she is confident that officials will take the appropriate steps.
“The Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center believes that most young people use hate speech and symbols out of a lack of understanding, not malice so we’ve developed a program to educate, not punish,” Jasper stated on Jan 31. “We reached out to the superintendent of schools to share information regarding hate symbols and hate speech as well as the history of antisemitism. We believe the Somers Schools administration takes this recent incident very seriously and we hope that they respond to our offer to help in reaction to this incident as well as proactively to dissuade future incidents.”
Two Somers High School students were arrested in 2016 for causing more than $29,000 in damage to more than 40 school buses. Fire extinguishers were used to spray graffiti, including a swastika and profanity, on the pavement, police stated at the time.
Nationwide, the number of reported hate crime incidents in 2017 was up 17 percent over 2016 totals, according to the latest F.B.I. statistics released in Nov. of last year. There was also a spate of incidents in Westchester County last year, with swastikas and other hate symbols found on a local college campus, on road signs and on a newspaper, among other examples.