UPDATE: The Globe followed up with Wellesley School Superintendent Bella Wong, the Wellesley Police Department as well as with the ADL. Read their story here.
Bates Elementary School Principal Michael Spencer earlier this month notified parents that offensive graffiti — in the form of a swastika — was discovered inside a playground slide outside of school hours. The news trickled out beyond Bates through the Wellesley Police Department blotter last week, though residents from the town’s Jewish community who contacted us lamented a lack of broader awareness.
Spencer initially notified Bates families of the situation on the afternoon of Nov. 3 in a memo titled “Non-emergency; Graffiti issue.”
The note read in part:
“I write to share that offensive graffiti was observed and reported by some of our students. A swastika was drawn on a piece of our back playground equipment. It has since been removed. However, given the nature of the symbol and the discovery by students, I felt it not only important to share with families but also with students.
Over the next few days, faculty will discuss the discovery in age appropriate manners. The main focus will be the destructive nature of graffiti and how it should be reported when witnessed. In addition, there will be the opportunity to remind our students about the commonalities and differences in our school community and how that strengthens us. This will be a continuation of conversation we are already having especially with Mix-it Up Day coming next Tuesday. A final theme of the discussion will be about the opportunity for individuals to support one another and act as allies.
As a community, it is important that we join together to confront such attempts to disrupt our respect for all individuals. Such incidents can either work to shake our values or harden our resolve. I have great confidence that, at Bates, it will be the latter.”
This communication didn’t sit well with all Bates families, however, and Spencer followed up with another note later the same day that read in part:
“I hope to provide some greater clarity to my earlier email regarding the graffiti both in our approach and its reporting. First, the discovery was made outside of our school hours on the inside of our tunnel slide on the back playground. The swastika was immediately scratched out by adults present on the playground. Several authorities have been informed of the graffiti including the police, the superintendent and the Anti-Defamation League. Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to the question of responsibility for the drawing.
In terms of the age-appropriate discussions, the faculty will be taking a more general approach with our k-2 students about the power of words and drawings and how they can be hurtful. Teachers in grades 3-5 will mention the swastika specifically and its destructive and hateful impact. As mentioned before, all of our students will use the discussion to also help underscore the importance of individual difference and acceptance. While these are general guides for our conversations, we can never fully map the discourse. Our plan is to have each classroom send an overview of their own discussion to families via email afterwards for the opportunity to continue the topic in your own manner at home. The classroom-based conversations will take place over the next few days.
I also realize that we are one layer of the conversation and as such will offer the opportunity for families to meet Friday morning with myself and a few teachers about the issue at 8:45 am in the cafeteria. Our faculty echoes the concerned response that I have heard from families and we all hope to guide our students to a positive outcome.”
Wellesley parents with kids in schools other than Bates heard about the issue through the grapevine and expressed concern that it didn’t receive broader attention, especially in light of the fact that other recent graffiti incidents in town — such as paintings of sexual and other images at the high school — grabbed big headlines. Wellesley High’s administration also addressed offensive graffiti issues in the spring.
School Superintendent Bella Wong says that the high school situations got wider attention because the high school is a much bigger community than the Bates one. Wong doesn’t plan to address the Bates graffiti issue in her weekly bulletin, saying that the school system typically handles such situations on a more local basis. However, she does welcome contact by those in the community who would like to discuss the issue further.
Outside of Wellesley, Curry College in Milton was the subject of headlines in recent days as the result of swastikas found in two dorms.