Students, staff focus on making schools safe for all
After the discovery last week of several swastikas on the walls and doors of boys’ bathrooms at Liberty Bell High School, school staff are taking steps to educate students about the history of intolerance and to ensure that schools remain a safe place for all.
“One of our district’s core beliefs states, ‘Diversity makes us stronger,’ said Liberty Bell principal Deborah DeKalb in a letter sent to all school families about the defamatory graffiti.
There were small swastikas written in markers in four areas on the walls of stalls in boys’ bathrooms in the junior-high wing. A “pretty noticeable” larger one — about 1 foot across — was scratched into the door of a stall in a boys’ bathroom near the school commons, said DeKalb.
School custodians are cleaning the small ones, but because the larger swastika had been scratched into the door — and because the door is so old — the door will be replaced, said DeKalb.
A student saw the swastikas last week and reported them to a teacher, who then told DeKalb. Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable said he was encouraged that the student felt safe enough to report the swastikas to a teacher. That’s consistent with their message encouraging students who see or hear incidents of harassment, intimidation, bullying or acts of intolerance to “say something” or “do something,” said Venable.
Graffiti — particularly negative graffiti — in the schools is rare, and this is the first time they have ever found swastikas, said DeKalb. Graffiti found in the girls’ bathrooms includes statements like “You’re beautiful just the way you are” and “Be good to yourself,” she said.
School teachers and administrators are still investigating the swastikas and developing a comprehensive response. Several educational activities that touch on the issue had already been scheduled.
Dani Golden had already arranged to have an educator from Room One talk with her ninth-grade English class this week about school climate and addressing hate, said DeKalb. Golden set up the lesson after her observations — and an anonymous survey — showed that the students don’t always treat one another with kindness or behave appropriately, said DeKalb. They may extend the Room One lesson to eighth- and 10th-grade classes, said DeKalb.
Seventh-graders are in the midst of a regular unit in which they read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” John Roth, a retired professor and Holocaust scholar who lives in the Methow, was already scheduled to talk with students about the Holocaust as part of the unit, said DeKalb.
Advisory classes include activities on the theme of “choose love, instead of hate,” said DeKalb. Those activities emphasize the district’s formal commitment to developing students who are “caring, empathetic, compassionate and respectful,” and who have “a strong sense of fairness, justice, and respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere.”
In her letter to families, DeKalb wrote, “In an effort to ensure our school continues to serve as a safe, caring, and inclusive place of learning for all, free of hatred, fear, intimidation, harassment, and bullying, our high school staff, supported by interested students, will be facilitating lessons aimed at providing the history of intolerance associated with this symbol.”
She urged students’ parents and families “to have a conversation at home about the swastika, what it represents, the type of environment we aspire to cultivate within our schools, and the important responsibility each of us has to ensure our schools remain a safe place for all.”
School administrators don’t know who was responsible for the swastikas, but they’re continuing to investigate and to talk with students and staff, said DeKalb. DeKalb has notified law enforcement about the swastikas, said Venable. The schools have cameras in the hallways, but not in the bathrooms, said DeKalb.
Instances of bullying are infrequent in the school district, said Venable. “This appears to be a somewhat isolated incident — but a very visible one,” he said.