Swastika Found in Francis Lewis Classroom

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A swastika was drawn on a bookshelf in the back of room 102 and was found on November 21 by Ms. Linda Bell, a Social Studies teacher.

“When I first saw it, I was really shocked for a lot of reasons,” Ms. Bell said.  “It’s our school and we’re so diverse so it was really shocking.”

Ms. Bell immediately notified the Assistant Principal of Security, Mr. McCarthy, who happened to be walking by her classroom at that moment. 

“I saw him, and I grabbed him and I said, ‘Look!’,” Ms. Bell said. “Then I just followed up with an email about it.”

Administration expressed dismay about the incident. 

“Anything in this building that creates an unwelcoming atmosphere and that is hurtful towards any group of people in the building is deeply concerning to me,” Principal Dr. Marmor said.  “This particular symbol has very deep rooted hatred and a very deep rooted meaning and is particularly offensive to many people, including myself. I was certainly not happy to have seen it there.”

In response, and as part of the investigation, every student with classes in Room 102 had their notebooks inspected on November 22 and November 25 to see if swastikas were drawn.

“In this particular case, we canvassed those rooms with those kids and took a quick peek at some of their writings to see if there was any similar or suspicious activity,” Dr. Marmor said. “We did not find anything specific, or suspicious.” 

Ms. Bell stated that the school is planning to have No Place for Hate come in and speak with the classes as a response to the incident. 

“Because anti-Semitism can be a triggering topic for some, we decided to address it as discrimination and stereotypes,” No Place for Hate President Megan Lovett said. “After we address stereotypes and discrimination, we will bring up the swastika and how this act is frowned upon. As students [and] the youth of the future we should be better than this.”

No Place for Hate is an initiative pushed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to, according to the ADL website, promote “unity and respect, and empowering schools to reduce bullying, name-calling and other expressions of bias.”

“As far as No Place for Hate is concerned, what we’re trying to do is what we’ve done every year,” Lovett said.  “We go to certain classrooms and inform them about certain issues that are going on. We try addressing it directly.”

Such hate crimes are appearing more and more frequently in New York State. In 2018, there were 150 hate crime based arrests in New York. As recent as August 9, 2019, Theodore Roosevelt Park in Long Island was vandalized with swastikas, and even more recently, in November, Syracuse University was hit with four cases of bigoted vandalism of harmful images in the span of eight days. The last two happened on November 14, a double shot of graffiti attacking the Asian community on campus, and a swastika drawn in the snow near a residential building where many Syracuse University students reside.

“I don’t know how people are going to reconcile that this happened in our school, why it happened, and the larger [picture of] what’s going on in New York State and in our country, where there’s an increase in anti-Semitic crimes, discriminatory practices, and racist crimes,” Ms. Bell said.  

Ms. Bell is concerned how her students will internalize the event.

“I think there’s going to be shock involved with the students because many of them are just starting to learn about these things,” Ms. Bell added. “I don’t know if they’re going to have an easy time reconciling what was there and what to do as a result. I’m hoping that students are able to really take away that just because one person did this, it doesn’t represent all of us.”