WESTFIELD, NJ — Several members of the public called on school officials to take a stronger stance against hate speech following the discovery last week of swastikas drawn at Westfield High School.
Resident Kerri Oligino was among the parents to question the school board this week, after the authorities found that swastikas had been drawn at Westfield High School.
“I’d like to know more about what the high school is going to be doing about hate speech and following up on Friday and the swastika and all of that being discussed,” Oligino said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t think that something being said in the morning announcements is sufficient to address it with the students.”
Superintendent Margaret Dolan said the district is taking several steps to address hateful messages found in schools.
“It’s something we’re certainly focused on, and I wish we could fix once and for all,” Dolan said. Dolan said the district is partnering with the Anti-Defamation League’s program, ‘No Place for Hate.’ She said the district has tried to join the program for the past two years, and that the high school and two intermediate schools were accepted into the program this year.
Dolan said students were given a voluntary survey at the start of the school year to report what they were hearing and experiencing in school. The district, using this data, then works with the ADL to determine appropriate steps to take to address what is being reported, she said.
Dolan also said district officials take action to address graffiti once they become aware of it.
“Whenever we are aware, we absolutely do take steps, the same steps for any group, and that would be very important,” she said. “If anybody else is aware, it would be very helpful that you do tell me.”
“We don’t want graffiti, and we want to address it any time there is graffiti,” Dolan said. “If a parent has a picture or a parent has a report, please tell anyone, and we’ll work on it. We don’t want graffiti.”
Resident Allison Simone joined with Oligino in her concern that the swastikas reported at Westfield High School were not more strongly addressed. She pointed to how the principal addressed hateful graffiti found at Edison Intermediate School last year.
“They had assemblies that said this is not appropriate behavior. The school is not going to tolerate it, and this is what the consequence is going to be if you get caught,” Simone said.
A report in the Westfield High School student newspaper, the Hi’s Eye, published Friday detailed the message delivered to students from Principal Mary Asfendis in the morning announcements.
“We will do three or four activities throughout the school year that will address bias and incidents in our school,” Asfendis said. “The good thing is that we are always aware of this. We’ve already had these things in place before this.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Board President Peggy Oster said district officials work hard to address and condemn hateful messaging in its schools.
“I believe that the incident that happened at the high school was reported by a student, and brought to our attention, and it was taken care of immediately,” Oster said. “If there’s inappropriate words, we take care of it very quickly and get rid of it, and address not only just the graffiti, but to address to our students how inappropriate this is.”
“We do believe there is no place for hate in our schools,” she said. “That’s something that we very strongly believe in.”
Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said she sent an email advising custodians to follow up on reports at Tuesday’s board meeting of hateful graffiti in parts of other school district buildings.
Staff Writer Matt Kadosh contributed to this article. Email him at email@example.com.