Anti-Semitic graffiti at Ottoson not swastikas, Bodie says

UPDATED, Oct. 9: Anti-Semitic graffiti found in a bathroom last Friday at the Ottoson Middle School has led to undisclosed steps against students involved.

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An Oct. 7 statement from schools' Superintendent Kathleen Bodie and Ottoson Middle School Principal Brian Meringer described what officials found as the anti-Semitic graffiti and a meme.

Asked by YourArlington to detail the graffiti further, Bodie wrote Oct. 9: "What I can say is that it was not swastikas. But, in the interest of the students involved, I cannot give you the exact graffiti language."

Capt. Richard Flynn, Arlington police representative, declined to comment and referred questions to Bodie.

"The district will not be releasing information about the students that have been found responsible and the consequences they will be facing," it said.

At Thursday's School Committee meeting, member Jennifer Susse plans to address the incident. This document is on the agenda.

Last December, graffiti was found in a bathroom at Thompson, and officials called it hate speech. In that case, no suspect was reported caught, and parents stepped up to clean the area.

"Parents were notified by Ottoson school administrators on Friday, Oct. 4, along with Arlington Police and the Arlington Human Rights Commission, about anti-Semitic graffiti found in a bathroom at the Ottoson Middle School.

Students addressed

"In response to the graffiti, several steps have been taken to speak to students about the incident and the ramifications that hate speech can have.

"On Monday morning, seventh-grade students met in the gym during their ASPIRE class and were told about Friday’s events. School leadership emphasized to the seventh grade that hate speech is not tolerated at the Arlington Public Schools or elsewhere.

"It was also emphasized to students that every member of our school community has a right to be safe from derogatory remarks about race, religion and/or sexual preference and gender identity."

Eighth-grade students expect to meet with administrators on Tuesday, Oct. 8, regarding the incident and will receive the same information.

Video responses

The school will be showing videos of how groups have responded to hate speech later in the week, the statement from Guilfoil Public Relations said.

"We want to stress that middle school students make mistakes. Our obligation is to help them learn from this incident. However, middle school educators also worry about future incidents. It is not uncommon for middle school students to copycat actions that warrant a response in order to get attention," it said.

Nationally, hate crimes are on the rise, and students often mirror what they see and hear outside of school. We have attached a report from the Anti-Defamation League that speaks to the increase of hate crimes. We encourage parents to have a conversation with their children about the impact of hate speech of any kind.

"Finally, we will continue to strive to be a more inclusive and accepting school community," the statement said.

Mockingbird message

Last year, Ottoson School administrators invited Dr. Carlos Hoyt, who talked to eighth-grade students about the use of the "n-word" before reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

The school also hosted a "No Place for Hate" soccer clinic run by the Chelsea Football Club, which combined soccer with classroom sessions on the dangers of anti-Semitism. A group of middle school students were inspired to raise money to paint a gender-neutral bathroom with the hope of preventing graffiti.

This summer, school and district officials met with the Arlington Police and the Human Rights Commission to document procedures to respond to hate speech and bias," the statement said.

"At the school and district level, we are continuing our professional development on cultural competency, and examining our curriculum for opportunities to teach our students about inclusive behavior. We look toward moving forward from this incident through teaching, tolerance and understanding."

Dec. 7, 2018: Thompson parents step up after report of 'hate' graffiti at school

This news announcement was published Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, and updated Oct. 8, to add references to a Thompson incident and to the upcoming School Committee meeting, as well as Oct. 9, to report Bodie's comment.