Greenwich Schools Chief Responds to Word of Incidents at GHS: Derogatory Comments, Anti-Semitic Symbols, Racial Slurs

Governor Ned Lamont announced on Tuesday that because of a rise in dangerous antisemitic incidents on college campuses across the country in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks on Israel, he was organizing a meeting of security officials from CT public and private higher education institutions to address incidents of hate on campuses.

“We have zero tolerance for acts of antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hatred of any kind in Connecticut, and we will deploy all available public safety resources to keep our residents safe,” Governor Lamont said.

“The nationwide increase in incidents of hatred on college campuses is greatly disturbing and can infect anywhere,” he added. “We will not allow incidents of hate and intimidation to become normalized.”

In Stamford, for the second time since since Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct 7,  antisemitic symbols were found on campus at Academy of Information Technology & Engineering, AITE. Students found several swastikas drawn on the tennis courts on Friday. The district said since  campuses were open to the public when school is not is session, they didn’t know if it was the work of students. Stamford Police are investigating.

Mayor Caroline Simmons, BOE Jackie Heftman and Superintendent Lucero issued a statement which is on the Stamford Schools website as a newsflash dated Oct 27, that said, in part, “Today’s incident is yet another reminder that we must denounce hate in all its forms. Antisemitism, racism, hate speech, bullying, or the dissemination of hate-related symbols will not be tolerated in the City of Stamford or Stamford Public Schools.”

The statement announced that the city and school district were working with local faith leaders and community organizations to offer anti-bias programming in the Stamford middle and high schools.

Incidents in Greenwich Schools

Meanwhile, here in Greenwich, the Friday, Oct 27 Parent Link newsletter from Greenwich High School’s principal Ralph Mayo included a segment from the Dean of Student Life, Thomas Pereira.

Under the heading, Respecting Differences, Mr. Pereira wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that I address this issue within my segment. Regrettably, there have been several instances where derogatory comments, anti-Semitic symbols, and racial slurs have been observed or heard in our wonderful community of learners.”

“It is disheartening that such offensive comments and symbols are being expressed, especially when our diverse community should be a source of celebration,” he added.

Mr. Pereira suggested the community come together, foster respect, and celebrate the school’s richness of the many cultures.

“We are all Cardinals, united by our diversity, which is what truly makes this place remarkable and extraordinary,” he added.  “If you happen to witness or hear any of these concerning incidents, please promptly inform a staff member so that we can take appropriate action. Such behaviors have no place in our great community, and we are committed to upholding a culture of respect and inclusivity.”

In response to Mr. Pereira’s update, Rabbi Mitch from Temple Sholom said in an email to GFP, “There should exist a zero-tolerance policy for the use of anti-Semitic language, grafitti, writings, or actions. The recent communication on ‘Respecting Differences’ is a welcome start, and it is my hope that we will be able to create clearer guidelines for all schools as to what is required to create an ongoing safe and respectful environment.”

On Wednesday morning, an email to GHS principal Ralph Mayo and Dean of Student Life Thomas Pereira requesting additional details on the incidents and plans to address them was not returned.

Instead, Dr. Toni Jones, Greenwich Schools Superintendent, shared with GFP an email she sent to the entire GHS community Wednesday afternoon.

In her email she explained that on Tuesday she met personally met with Mr. Mayo and Mr. Pereira, in addition to Greenwich Police, including school resource officers, and top district leadership team, and that the conversation would be ongoing.

The remainder of her email was as follows:

“While we take every report seriously, we want to ensure the entire school community that we are not seeing a large uptick at GHS in hateful behavior or rhetoric towards any group based on race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression, including those in the Jewish, Muslim, or LGBTQ communities.”

“A recent note to GHS families referenced instances where derogatory comments, antisemitic symbols, and racial slurs have been observed or heard and asked for parent or guardian assistance to speak with their children. The note spawned concerns on social media that there was a tremendous amount of hateful rhetoric and violent events occurring. I want to address that now:

  • Antisemitism: It was brought to the district’s attention that a swastika was discovered, carved onto a lab table which had been covered with reference sheets. It is unknown how long that hate symbol had been there. GHS administration initiated a thorough investigation and informed GPD. We are unaware of any other reports of antisemitism at GHS.

    GPS and the Greenwich Police Department agree that the vast majority of our GHS students understand that words matter and treat fellow students and staff with the utmost respect. When inappropriate language is either heard or reported, administration deals swiftly with those individuals. Our goal is to educate those that use that kind of language and to teach them about how hurtful it can be.

    Anti-Defamation League (ADL): The ADL will be on campus when our ninth-graders participate in Names Day on Tuesday, November 21. GPS has a long-standing partnership with the ADL and will continue to do so to help our students at the highest level to understand equitable treatment for all.

  • Fights: The Greenwich Police Department has confirmed for us that a small group of students have initiated multiple fights at GHS and in town, not a large “gang” as some have reported on social media. The GPD takes these matters seriously and will not hesitate to file criminal charges against students when appropriate. GPS also does not hesitate to initiate the expulsion hearing process to remind students there are drastic and long-lasting consequences for their inappropriate and hurtful actions. During an expulsion, education is still provided, but not in a GPS school setting. There have been at least two atrocious and violent videos being circulated on social media which are more akin to an assault than a school fight. We will not tolerate violent behavior, or recording and sharing of this behavior, in our schools.

  • Campus Safety: Other fights, beyond the two circulated on social media, have occurred this year inside our school. When a fight occurs, students should not be filming and circulating on social media. It is against the GHS Code of Conduct, Board of Education policy, and common decency. There are 10 members of the security staff and two School Resource Officers who work in conjunction with school personnel to keep our students and staff safe and secure. There are security cameras throughout the building.As a reminder, GHS is not an open campus for all students. Being a senior comes with certain privileges which are not afforded to ninth, 10th, and 11th graders. Please reinforce to your children that GHS expects students to use the appropriate entrance and exits, and to be where they are assigned by their schedule.

If you, or your children, are aware of any incidents that are actual or perceived to be biased in nature or pose a threat, I implore you to alert your school’s administration team immediately or send an anonymous alert. If you are unsatisfied with the response, contact me directly.

Please continue to have age-appropriate conversations with your children about helping to be the solution to problems, being compassionate towards others, and about the proper use of social media. We ask that family members use social media responsibly as well. Posting unsubstantiated stories can cause alarming behavior and undue stress.

For the well-being of our schools and entire community, we cannot afford to be societal bystanders during challenging and difficult times. Working together, we can help all students, families, and staff feel supported in our great community.”