Darien Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley held a meeting of community, religious, school and town officials and leaders last Thursday to discuss the recent school swastika incidents. The conversation was facilitated by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).

The meeting, which was not open to the public and was by invitation only, was held at the Darien High School library on Thursday, Dec. 12, from 7 to 9 p.m.

It follows several incidents of swastikas and a Star of David being found at Middlesex Middle School and Darien High School this fall.

The invitation obtained by The Darien Times said: “These incidents do not represent the values of our school district or town. The message for those involved is unequivocal. There is no place for sentiments of hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism in the Darien Public Schools.”

“As a community leader, you are receiving this invitation to engage in a Community Conversation for Action. I hope your calendar will permit you to attend as we come together to address this important issue,” Addley wrote.

He also indicated the “group size” of the conversation is limited and asked that attendees RSVP by Dec. 9.

In addition to several school administrators and students, the invitees included Board of Ed Chairman Tara Ochman, Darien Police Chief Donald Anderson, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Darien Library Director Alan Gray, local clergy, Council of Darien School Parents representatives, leaders of the YMCA and YWCA Darien/Norwalk, The Depot Youth Center and Shelly Skoglund representing Thriving Youth.

Attendees’ observations

Anderson said the meeting “went very well.”

“Probing incidents of this type are clearly best handled by all of us working together; my takeaway is that we are doing just that and we will continue to do so,” he added.

“The ‘why’ these specific incidents occurred are the reasons most difficult to identify. It’s not always easy; but then again nothing worthwhile ever is. The Police Department, as always, stands ready to do our part,” Anderson said.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she was “grateful that Dr. Addley, in response to finding drawings of Swastikas at Middlesex Middle School and the Darien High School, organized a facilitated discussion on the problem of anti-Semitism and how best to educate our students and community about the negative impacts of hate symbols.”

“The Board of Selectmen stands ready to continue this important dialogue,” she said.

Ochman said “the Conversation was a great example of the Darien community coming together to reject hate, and discuss how we can proceed as a united front.”

“The Board of Education is thankful and proud that such a wide variety of community organizations made time join us in this mission. As in all communities, there is continued work to be done, but with this type of continued collaboration we are well poised to do so,” she said.

“This is just the start of the conversation to shed light on the issue of racism, which occurs through things we hear about such as the swastikas at the schools and more subtle microaggressions that people experience every day and go unnoticed by others,” said Judy Phillips of the YWCA Darien/Norwalk.

Phillips said the YWCA applauds Dr. Addley’s efforts.

“He is clearly committed to working to address bias and racism in our schools and we look forward to working with him and other community leaders to educate and engage parents and the wider community through our programming such as YWCA Parent Awareness and Stand Against Racism,” she said.

Thriving Youth Co-Chairman Shelly Skoglund said she was “deeply saddened that the meeting was even necessary” but was “proud to see Dr. Addley rally the community to stand up against hate in any form.”

“As I looked around the room, though, I felt that real progress is possible. Hate makes us uncomfortable. A lot of people I spoke to in town want to downplay the incidents as attention seeking acts, not acts of hate,” Skoglund said.

“While I hope that’s true, we still have a responsibility to our children and the world we live in to stand against hate in any form. We have to educate our children about ideologies of hate, protect them from those ideologies and demonstrate our commitment through our own words and actions,” she said.

Stacey Tié, a representative of the Council of Darien School Parents, said the meeting was a “great first step.”

“It is important that the town and other non-profits in our community join the school district in making Darien a more inclusive and welcoming place for all,” she said.

Superintendent’s thoughts

“With displays of anti-Semitism, prejudice and discrimination on the rise in society and in school districts, it is critical that we take an unequivocal stance in denouncing these acts and that schools provide interventions and education on such matters,” Dr. Addley said.

In doing so, he said, “we also recognize the importance and power of partnering with our parents and community.”

“Together, we can help ensure that we maintain respectful and inclusive schools for our children supported by a welcoming and inclusive community. The Community Conversation for Action facilitated by the National Conference for Community and Justice was an important first step in the process and I anticipate follow up meetings in the immediate future. Thank you to members of the community who devoted their time to this important event,” he said.

About NCCJ

The NCCJ’s mission is defined on its website as “a human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all.”

Headquartered in New England, NCCJ writes it was founded in 1927 as the National Conference for Christians and Jews, in response to anti-Catholic sentiment being expressed during Al Smith's run for the Democratic nomination.