Paula Salky: Swastika incident could have been handled differently
I was wondering how long it (the story about swastikas at the Steamboat Springs High School) would take to get out into the general public — almost three months.
I contacted the superintendent, principal and school board three months ago asking for their help with this. (Thank you to Joey Andrews and Sam Rush for reaching out as concerned school board members.) The parent of the child contacted the police before Thanksgiving and wasn’t contacted until a week later.
The snow melted the swastika away, and the front of the locker was removed. When the car was etched (it was found in the school parking lot), the student was told they could get it buffed out. That is how this was handled.
The teachers and staff were not notified, and it was kept on the down low. I know they wanted to catch who did this, but it appeared they only wanted to have this go away. And believe me, it’s not just a swastika thing.
Students from different cultures, countries of origin, sexual preference hear things all the time, and it’s become an acceptable form of behavior, because it’s not called out as not being OK.
Facing History is an amazing program, but it is usually limited to a few teachers and doesn’t really help with implementing an overall plan or action when hate and bias come to your town/school. That is why I recommend a lesson plan on tolerance from the Southern Poverty Center.
This an easy lesson for administrators on how to respond to hate and bias at school. Imagine what would have happen if a statement like this were sent out to parents and staff: “Someone or some group has etched and drawn swastikas, a long-standing symbol of the worst kind of hate, on a car in the school parking lot and on a locker in the school. It is deplorable, and we denounce it. A full investigation is underway. We are working quickly to cover and remove this vicious symbol of oppression and genocide. There has also been a high incidence of verbal comments to our students from the Latino community. Hate has no place at this school. We, as a school community, stand for respect and inclusion, a place where all are free to learn in a safe and welcoming environment.”
Principal Kevin Taulman’s quote makes it sound like we, as Jews, are going to have to accept that this is a way of life and move on. Yes, antisemitism happens everywhere, but by doing nothing and not sharing this with your teachers, staff and community, it makes a statement that this kind of behavior is acceptable.
I know that is not how Taulman and the majority of the school staff feel. Unfortunately, this is happening in their school — our school. It’s not just a Jewish thing — it’s an ignorance, bigoted, hate thing.
The staff, parents and community members I know do not represent this way of thought, and neither does the school district. We need to be proud of the environment we work so hard to have in our school district, and this could have had a very positive outcome in the very beginning — especially right before the holidays, when these acts started to happen.
It’s not too late for the school district to take a stand. Now is their chance.
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