SUMMIT, NJ - Days after swastikas were found on the walls of Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, Summit High School Principal Stacy Grimaldi has notified both students and parents that the images have also been found carved into the stalls in a boys bathroom in the Kent Place Boulevard campus.
Like the incident at LCJSMS, Grimaldi notes in her e-mail that the incident has been referred to the Summit Police Department. Summit Mayor Nora Radest has weighed in with a statement that reads:
“The recent drawings of swastikas and other offensive drawings found in the Summit Middle and High School are inexcusable. The immature and ignorant behavior is deplorable and will be addressed. I am confident that the school district, working in partnership with the Summit Police Department, will identify the individuals responsible for this activity.
Most importantly, this terrible incident needs to serve as an opportunity for families and our schools to discuss the history of hate symbols and how they will not be tolerated in Summit.
I firmly believe that this incident does not define us as a community; we are compassionate and respectful. We support one another and we must continue to stand up against hatred and bigotry wherever we see it.”
Grimaldi said that "any act that violates the commitment (to create a safe and accepting learning environment for all students) will be swiftly and firmly addressed." She goes on to ask for anyone with knowledge of who perpretrated the act to contact her "as soon as possible."
Since the symbols were discovered at the middle school and the public was subsequently informed by the Summit School District, the Hilltop City community has reacted with shock, sadness and resolve, handing out flyers at the middle school denouncing hate of any kind -- 'Hate Has No Room Here' and taping the flyers on school lockers. Yard signs have also begun to spring up around neighborhoods with a similar message.
Summit parent Lisa Stein started both an online signup to let parents know that flyers would be distributed this morning at LCJSMS, and the Facebook group “No Room for Hate,” which is modeled after the Hate Has No Home Here organization.
She wrote that she was “forming this group to centralize communications about spreading peace in Summit, regardless of school level.” She also started two “Signup Genius” forms, requesting volunteers for a flyer handout this morning at both LCJSMS and Summit High School. She wrote,”We are gathering to give flyers to high school students on their way into school. If they request their teachers and administration to hang them up, we believe it WILL happen (as per Principal Dr. Gallo at LCJSMS).
This is a PEACEFUL protest. We are not commenting on the school's or the district's actions. We are not demanding any action against the perpetrator (whom we understand is a CHILD). We are simply making it clear that we stand together against hate in Summit.”
LCJSMS Math Teacher Katarin McKee tweeted a photo of the flyers lining lockers at the middle school. She wrote, “Hate has no home here in Summit.” Flyers were available for home printing through the Facebook page. The statement was translated into five additional languages on the flyer.
Parents posted videos in the group of students holding the signs.
Yesterday, in response to the LCJSMS incident, Rabbi Avi Friedman made a public statement on the Summit Jewish Community page.
He wrote, “Swastikas? Again? When I see a red octagon, I stop. The meaning of that symbol has been ingrained in me for as long as I can remember. It does not have to have the word “stop” written on it. The symbol is enough to elicit a response. It is one of many symbols that have that kind of power over me.
Another symbol which immediately elicits a response in me is the swastika – the emblem of Nazi Germany. Without saying a word, the presence of a swastika tells me that I am “other,” that I am hated and that I am in danger. It is not something I read in a book or saw in a movie that causes this response. It is the real-life experiences of family members. Like most other Jews my age, I grew up with relatives who had numbers tattooed on their arms. From an early age, I knew the stories of who got out of Europe when and who didn’t get out. It was just a part of Jewish life.
So, when I heard – over a week after the fact – that swastikas had been graffitied on the wall of a bathroom in our local middle school, I had a visceral reaction that was out of my control. Now, to be clear, I don’t believe that there are Nazis here in Summit, New Jersey. Further, I don’t believe that our school district in any way condones the use of that symbol. That being said, I was underwhelmed by the response of our educational leaders.
Adolescents are supposed to test the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. That’s their job. The teen or teens who put those swastikas on the wall were experimenting. They wanted to see what kind of response that symbol would elicit. It’s the job of adults to make sure that those adolescents know when they’ve crossed a line.
Having an assembly with 12 components and making the response to the swastikas item #11 on the list is not exactly sending the message that this behavior is unacceptable in our community. And yet, that was the response of our school district. Further, parents were not notified about the assembly."
Grimaldi's message, in full, reads:
"Dear SHS Parents/Guardians,
Please find the announcement I made this afternoon to all students regarding swastikas found at SHS. Please speak to your student about this issue, and let me know if you have any questions.
This afternoon I was informed about the presence of several swastikas that were carved into two of the boys' bathroom stalls in the building. We have contacted the Summit Police Department and are working with them to find the perpetrator of these symbols of hatred. These acts of hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated at Summit High School. It is a priority of our school and district to create a safe and accepting learning environment for all students. Any act that violates this commitment will be swiftly and firmly addressed.
If you know who did this or have any information about the source of this hatred, please see me as soon as possible. In addition, please report any acts of hatred to an administrator or teacher immediately. There is no room for hatred at Summit High School or in the Summit community.
Summit High School
Following Grimaldi's e-mail, an e-mail from Superintendent of Schools June Chang was sent out to District parents. It reads:
It saddens me to have to reach back out to you regarding another act of hatred. This afternoon we were notified of swastikas found in two of the boy’s bathrooms at the Summit High School. The discovery of these drawings came following conversations with students about ensuring our schools are safe places where everyone is welcome and valued. As a result of the conversations, a student reported the finding whereupon additional swastikas in the second bathroom were discovered. As we raise awareness about the power of these symbols and the impact of their meaning, we empower our students to come forward about such incidents and the harm they can inflict.
We feel it imperative that you remain aware of incidents like this as we continue to combat acts of hatred.
As stated in my November 29th letter to parents and guardians, “Acts of hate of any kind in the Summit Public Schools will not be tolerated. We take pride in our continual efforts to make the Summit Public Schools a safe and welcoming place for all of our students and staff. We value our diversity, and are serious about promoting kindness, acceptance, and understanding within our community.”
As was done at the middle school, all students at the high school were addressed, and were informed that hatred will not be tolerated or accepted. The Summit Police were contacted, and have been informed about these additional incidents. The police and school-wide investigation continues. Disciplinary action will be taken against any individual(s) involved in the incident.
I reiterate the importance of addressing this or any act of hatred ‘head-on’. Each of our schools continue to engage in conversations underscoring the importance of confronting hateful incidents, in addition to promoting appropriate behavior and actions that protect and support all of our students. Again, we encourage all Summit Schools families to engage with their children and neighbors in conversations about ending hatred and bigotry and promoting kindness and compassion.
I am pleased to report that excellent conversations about these incidents, and the need to combat hate, occurred today as part of the advisory program at the middle school. Hundreds of signs were hung on the walls and lockers at LCJSMS today stating simply that hate has no place in Summit. I am impressed by the sense of unity and the positive response of the LCJSMS staff and students. I am confident that the students and staff at Summit High School will also unite to stand against this type of behavior.
We continue to work with the Summit Police Department, our guidance counselors, and staff to create an environment that is accepting of ALL students, and will continue to enhance our role in delivering those positive messages to the students and staff of the Summit Public Schools.
June Chang Superintendent of Schools"