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Transparency in Responding to Anti-Semitism in Arlington Schools

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Dear Dr. Bodie,

We are writing first with gratitude for the swift action and communication in the wake of the recent disturbing anti-Semitic graffiti incident at Ottoson Middle School, and with appreciation for the steps the Ottoson principal is taking to review protocols for in-school responses to future incidents of hate at the school.

However, we respectfully disagree with your decision, communicated in your October 9 statement, not to disclose what the graffiti was, only saying that it was not a swastika.

We recognize that there are complexities to communicating broadly around incidents like this, including the possibility that individual students were named or targeted by the graffiti, or that copycat incidents could occur should the specific graffiti be revealed.

But as parents and members of the community, we are troubled that the content of the hateful speech is effectively being kept secret, which fails to hold up to the light acts of hate in our midst. For reasons ranging from calling out bigotry to making sure everyone knows what to look for, we urge greater transparency on this and any future incidents.

As a united community—particularly those of us who are Jewish or members of other racial and ethnic minorities—we feel deeply concerned by the escalating frequency of anti-Semitic incidents in town, including the acts of arson at the Center for Jewish Life last spring, and multiple swastika graffiti vandalisms in the past two years at Arlington public schools.

In the past week alone, during which Jews observed the sacred holiday of Yom Kippur, news headlines spoke of a synagogue shooting in Halle, Germany, a fire set near a synagogue in Brooklyn. And much closer to home, an anti-Semitic social media group was created by middle schoolers in Framingham, and an Israeli flag desecrated with a swastika and white nationalist numeric symbols was left outside a synagogue in Falmouth.

Anti-Semitic and other hate speech incidents in schools, public places, or anywhere else, cannot be allowed to hide in the shadows. Accordingly, we ask that the APS and APD consider being more specific and transparent when acts of hate do occur. If the content of hate speech is kept secret, we run the most terrible risk of all—that we become complacent and dismissive rather than vigilant and connected.

Looking toward the future, we are also writing to ask you to consider making Arlington a certified “Facing History and Ourselves” school district. Having teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels trained by this reputable and impactful organization would be a meaningful step toward ensuring that school children and families know how to recognize, talk about, and lessen if not eradicate hatred in our town.

Thank you for your support and attention.

Acting Police Chief Julie Flaherty
Arlington Human Rights Commission
Arlington School Committee
Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine

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