WESTFIELD, NJ – The boy who scrawled a swastika into a bathroom at Franklin Elementary School showed off the symbol of hate to three other youths, two of whom are Jewish, the parent of one of those students said Friday.
Nicole Damashek said the boy, who etched the symbol into a bathroom panel, led her fourth-grade son and two other students to the swastika on Wednesday. It is the second time her 9-year-old found a swastika in a school bathroom following a similar incident, which occurred last February, Damashek said.
“The boy said to my son … ‘look at this,’” she said of this week’s incident. “He specifically showed it to him, and there were two other boys with him.”
Damashek called on the school district and community to make a collective effort to prevent similar incidents.
“There needs to be some sort of collaborative effort between the schools, the clergy and the community to inform and educate now,” she said. “I don’t think we can sweep it under the rug, which is what happened before.”
Damashek said that last February her son found a swastika in a bathroom, and the school’s principal, Eileen Cambria, called it a “disturbing graffiti symbol scratched on a small section of a panel in the first-floor boys’ restroom,” in her email to parents.
That vague language left some wondering what that symbol was and, Damashek said, left her feeling the full story hadn’t been told.
On Wednesday, Cambria told parents that the student who allegedly etched the swastika into a bathroom panel admitted doing so.
“Appropriate consequences will be administered,” Cambriato said in the email.
“Take the time to talk to your child at home about this symbol of hate,” she said. “It is not an easy conversation, but it is a very important one.”
School Board President Gretchan Ohlig condemned the student’s graffiti and promised to continue the district’s work educating students on issues of diversity.
“Acts like this are unacceptable and Dr. Cambria and her staff have and continue to handle the response to this event in a way that makes that clear,” Ohlig said.
“The district remains focused on educating our students on issues of diversity and inclusiveness and will continue to partner with families and our community in doing this work.”
In the 2016-17 academic year, state Department of Education figures show, the Westfield School District saw 11 incidents that the state classified as Harassment Intimidation or Bullying, or HIB. Two incidents involved vandalism in that year, according to the state.
Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield noted that the incident comes in a time when hate incidents are on the rise across the state and the nation.
Hate crimes in New Jersey rose 32.5 percent in 2017 from 157 incidents reported in 2016 to 208 incidents, according to the Anti Defamation League. Nationwide, hate crimes rose 56.7 percent from 1,267 incidents to 1,986 incidents, the ADL report said.
Sagal said Friday that he plans to meet with school district officials to discuss ways to approach a community conversation surrounding the incident.
“We are past the time when we can look at acts of anti-Semitism bigotry or racism in any form and not respond,” Sagal said. “We are living in a time of heightened bigotry. Hate crimes are on the rise.
“And statistically the greatest numbers of hate crimes in the United States are anti-Semitic hate crimes. There needs to be a vigorous and direct response from the school.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh