Three swastikas found at Middlesex Middle School last week that resulted in a police investigation has prompted in a larger school discussion on discrimination. And on Monday, Sept. 16, another swastika and a Star of David were etched into a stall in one of the restrooms.

“Our School Resource Officer notified the DPD, and a detective was dispatched to photograph and document the incident as part of our ongoing schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning,” Principal Shelley Somers said in an email to parents.

Somers said she is scheduling an assembly with the Anti-Defamation League focused on the following goals:

To develop a common language for discussing issues of diversity, name-calling and bullying

To increase students’ awareness of the dynamics of name-calling and bullying incidents by understanding the different roles people play and the behaviors associated with each

To provide a forum in which students will feel safe to speak out about issues of diversity, bullying and name-calling

“The ADL has also provided me with a lesson plan and activities discussing hate symbols, and anti-Semitism, which I have presented to the Advisory Committee for immediate implementation. I feel that our collaboration with the DPD and our plans to inform and educate our students will put an end to these intolerable acts,” Somers said.

On Monday, Sept. 9, Somers alerted parents via email that swastikas drawn in soap or crayon on the outside of one of our first floor classroom windows had been discovered by the school resource officer (SRO).

“He notified the Darien PD, who photographed and documented the incident, and the symbol was then removed by our custodians. As you know, we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior, and hate has no place at Middlesex,” she said.

Somers said she hoped it was an isolated incident, but said “we will be vigilant in patrolling our campus, in discussing the impact of symbols and hate crimes with our students, and in communicating with you.”

Swastika history

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the swastika , (a hooked cross) appears to have first been used in Eurasia, as early as 7000 years ago, perhaps representing the movement of the sun through the sky. It is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism. It is a common sight on temples or houses in India or Indonesia. Swastikas also have an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being.

The swastika eventually became a symbol of “Aryan identity” and German nationalist pride.

Following Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945, the Allied governments ruling the nation outlawed Nazi organizations. Their symbols and propaganda were removed and further dissemination criminalized. Subsequent German governments continued the ban on Nazi symbols and propaganda, including the swastika. Today in Germany and other European states, public display of Nazi symbols, including on the Internet, is prohibited by law and individuals violating such terms are subject to criminal proceedings.

Police response

Detective James Palmieri confirmed the incident and said it appeared the symbol may have been there for a long time, and “appears to be an isolated incident.”

“We took a quick report but decided this was best investigated by the district given the age of the possible offender(s),” he said.

He added the SRO is working with the school administration to monitor the situation in the event this is not isolated.

District response

Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley said “the image photographed before the offensive symbol was removed.”

Addley said “while this may be an isolated incident, we know the district is a microcosm of society at large and thereby not immune to issues of prejudice and discrimination.”

“The incident is disturbing because it clearly does not represent the values of the middle school community or school district. The message for those involved is unequivocal. Sentiments of hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism have no place in the middle school or school district,” he said.

Addley said the incident provides the school “an opportunity for education and a time to remind our young students that we stand for respect and inclusion.”

“In doing so, the middle school administration will be working with the Anti-Defamation League in providing educational experiences for our middle school students that help promote a safe and inclusive learning environment,” he said.

Multiple swastikas were recently reported at Staples High School in Westport and swastikas and anti-semitic comments were also found at Hamden High School.

“As educators and community members we must continue to be role models for our students and children, providing guidance and education on issues of diversity, prejudice, and acceptance. School must always be a place where all students are free to learn in a safe and welcoming environment,” Addley said.