SILVER SPRING – For the second time in about six months, a drawing of a swastika was found at Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington on Nov. 25.
“I am extremely disappointed to report to you that a pencil drawing of a swastika was found on a student desk. We quickly removed the vandalism,” Principal Traci Townsend wrote in a Nov. 27 letter to parents.
In May, someone drew a swastika in the boy’s bathroom.
“A hate crime such as this is hurtful, unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Townsend wrote in her letter, which was written in both English and Spanish.
The school “has taken numerous steps to build an inclusive community,” and students participated in a lesson on the significance of a swastika, she wrote.
According to Montgomery County School District Spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala, the incident is under investigation.
When the swastika was found, both the Montgomery County Police (MCP) Department and the school district’s Office of School Support and Improvement were notified.
According to the most recent county police report on bias incidents, there were 93 reported bias incidents during 2018, which were about 24% fewer than during 2017.
On average, police are informed of eight bias incidents per month, according to the report.
Thirty-seven incidents that occurred during 2017 were religion-based. Of that number, 76% were labeled as “anti-Jewish despite Jewish persons making up only 10% of the population,” it stated in the report.
Another 39 incidents were motivated by race, of which about two-thirds were considered anti-black, according to the report.
The incident at Silver Creek is not the only hate-based incident that took place at the schools here. During this school year, the N-word was used, and students dressed in blackface. Also, other swastikas were found.
Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), called the most recent incident “disturbing.”
A swastika is not just anti-Semitic, she said. It also denotes “white nationalism, white power and racism,” she said.
It also could be a middle school student “who just wants to get a rise out of people,” she said.
Hate-based vandalism, bullying and discrimination “is taking place” not just locally, but across the country, she said.
There has been “an uptick” in calls to the JCRC from parents and other residents who report on an incident they or their child experienced, she said.
The JCRC works within the school district, performing outreach to administration, staff, students and parents.
“We have done numerous teacher trainings,” she said. “We help teachers address implicit and explicit bias in the classroom, but more is needed.”
The JCRC brings Holocaust survivors to the classrooms who tell of their experiences to students.
“Last year, our Holocaust survivors spoke to over 5,000 students throughout the region,” Siegel said.
“Knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust is continuing to plummet, and we know that’s true,” she said, pointing to a study by the Pew Research Center.
The JCRC’s student to student, peer to peer program, guides Jewish young people on the best ways to talk to non-Jews about such topics as the Holocaust and Israel, Siegel noted.
Siegel likened hate-based incidents to a broken record. A swastika or a bullying problem is discovered. It gets written about in the press. The public is outraged, “and then it dies down,” she said.
Then it happens again, and the cycle begins anew, she said.
This pattern leads to a normalization of hatred, “and that’s what I am concerned about,” Siegel said. “We need to change the culture from the top down fundamentally.”
“To a certain extent, kids need to get this from home,” she said, noting that parents should speak to their children about the importance of diversity and mutual respect.