High school hate crime
NARRAGANSETT — School officials have assembled a team of faculty, parents and religious leaders to address students about tolerance after anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in a boys bathroom at the high school earlier this month.
In addition to the graffiti, Superintendent Katherine E. Sipala cited other incidents involving a small group of students perpetrating hateful speech and teasing other students about their ethnicity in the school. She said the behavior is unacceptable and the district is addressing the issue full force.
“When I heard about the graffiti, I was so sad about it,” Sipala said. “But we’re not going to get frozen by it. We’re taking this seriously and want parents to know that we’re going to deal with it appropriately.”
Principal Daniel F. Warner sent a letter to parents on Tuesday explaining what happened. He said the graffiti was “hurtful” and “disturbing” and “goes against everything we are trying to accomplish here at Narragansett High School.”
A team lead by school psychologist Ruth Anderson, consisting of parents, faculty and community members – including local clergy – will meet with students and is in the planning stages for a broader response in the coming days. The group was formed immediately after the graffiti incident.
Sipala said that clergy members will help the district bring in speakers to address the issue of intolerance and help staff and students deal with their feelings if they have been discriminated against.
In terms of the students who have been teasing other students, Sipala said it is a small group of younger students, consisting mostly of freshmen. Those students have been spoken to on an individual basis and their parents have been involved.
As far as the student who wrote the graffiti, Sipala said that the police have been notified and there is an ongoing investigation.
But the broader issue isn’t finding and punishing the student responsible for the graffiti, Sipala said. It’s to use the situation as a learning experience and opportunity to improve the overall school atmosphere.
In addition, school officials are asking parents to lead by example. In his letter, Warner wrote, “A heartfelt conversation centered on being accepting of one another would speak volumes to your children.”
The situation also gives Warner hope that students who have witnessed discriminatory behavior will feel empowered to speak up, or will realize that their silence can be interpreted as condoning such behavior.
“By doing nothing,” Warner said, “they give tacit approval that these events are within the boundaries of acceptable high school behavior. They are not.”