WESTFIELD, NJ – Officials defended the school district’s response to the second swastika found at an elementary school within two years as parents argued on Tuesday that the district’s response was not enough.
At the school board meeting, residents asked why the district was not more transparent in its communications about the incident in which an elementary school student is alleged to have etched a swastika on a bathroom panel at Franklin Elementary School and questioned what efforts the district is making prevent further incidents.
While Franklin School’s principal sent a letter to parents detailing the incident shortly afterward, Mitchell Cohen, the parent of a high school student, said the incident impacts the entire Westfield community and the district’s communications should reflect that fact.
“This should be discussed at a holistic level,” Cohen said. “It should not just be discussed at Franklin School because who knows where the next incident will happen.”
The parent of a student at Franklin School, in an interview, previously said the child accused of etching the swastika into the bathroom showed her son and two other students the anti-Semitic graffiti.
Within several days of the Oct. 3 incident at Franklin School, vandals spray-painted vulgar and anti-Semitic graffiti at a high school in neighboring Scotch Plains. Photographs of the graffiti show a reference to Westfield.
Municipal and school officials in Scotch Plains condemned the incident and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office previously said it is investigating the crime.
Both that incident and the swastika found at the elementary school in Westfield came during a state-mandated “Week of Respect,” during which the district, as mandated by state law, held activities geared toward character development, school officials said.
The Oct. 3 incident, parents said at the meeting, marked the second swastika found at the school in Westfield, following one found there in February of 2017. School officials, at the time, called it “disturbing graffiti,” but did not identify it specifically.
Superintendent Margaret Dolan pointed to the district’s K-12 Holocaust curriculum and the school principal’s communication to parents of Franklin School, news of the incident the day it happened.
“One of the areas of focus this year is on social and emotional learning,” Dolan said. “Developing the skills of our students. … It’s somewhat of a broader issue.”
Not everyone was convinced that the district responded strongly enough. “The response was very muted,” said resident Julie Steinberg. “Comments were made when asked. Nobody went out in a way that made me feel that yes, there is going to be a strong response by this administration and this board.”
Student privacy concerns limit what information the district can release, School Board President Gretchan Ohlig said.
“There’s both a process in place that we’re trying to honor and recognize while at the same time, we’re a little bit in shock, as well, and upset,” Ohlig said. “If the response seemed muted in some way, I apologize.”
Member Charles Ostroff, whose son attended Franklin School last year, condemned the ant-Semitic graffiti.
“There should be no doubt from anyone in this town that it’s unacceptable, that it won’t be tolerated,” Ostroff said. “As a community, we need to come together.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh
More Local News