Following the recent news of a swastika found at Greenwich High School, and two letters from the Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones to the GHS community, over 500 people calling themselves “Greenwich Voices Against Antisemitism” signed a letter to her on Monday urging her to do more.
By Wednesday at 4:00pm the letter had achieved over 900 signatures including First Selectman Fred Camillo and US Congressman Jim Himes.
A sequence of events led to the group letter. The GHS Oct 27 Parent Link newsletter from principal Ralph Mayo included word from Dean of Student Life Thomas Pereira saying there had been several instances of derogatory comments, anti-Semitic symbols, and racial slurs at the school.
Last Wednesday Jones wrote her first of two letters to the GHS community and shared it with GFP.
In it she said she had met with GHS principal Ralph Mayo, Mr. Pereira, Greenwich Police and the district’s top leadership team about the incidents, and promised the conversation would be ongoing. She noted that while there was talk on social media about multiple reports of antisemitism at GHS, she had become aware of the one swastika carved onto a lab table hidden under reference sheets, and it was unknown how long it had been there.
“We are unaware of any other reports of antisemitism at GHS,” she wrote.
A second email to families, sent Sunday night, said that in addition to the one swastika carved on the science lab table, incidents at two of the district’s middle schools were under investigation.
“If our investigation finds any act of violence or belligerence, we do not hesitate to involve the Greenwich Police Department,” she wrote.
Jones wrote that hate rhetoric, whether written or spoken, was hurtful and concerning, and that school administration investigates each case.
She said in addition to the annual Names Day event at GHS, the ADL Program, ‘No Place for Hate,’ is in both the middle schools and high school, and that many guest speakers visit Greenwich Schools.
She explained that in grades K-5, the curriculum comes with a framework of understanding and acceptance, and builds learning about themselves and their place in the world as developmentally appropriate for young children. She explained that specifics about the Holocaust are first introduced in sixth grade, using age appropriate materials from Washington, D.C.’s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the ADL. In eighth grade, the middle school experience culminates with a trip to Washington, where an in-person visit to the museum brings an authentic understanding beyond the classroom. At the high school students study the Holocaust in Global Studies, a course all of high school students take as well as European History.
“We encourage everyone to visit the Holocaust Museum’s website to gain a better understanding of the extensive archives, personal stories, and impactful resources available to our students and teachers,” she wrote.
“As a parent, you understand that young children and teens act inappropriately for many different reasons, including a lack of understanding, cognitive or emotional challenges, or not being thoughtful that their words and actions can be hurtful to others,” she wrote.
She noted that while over the previous weekend, headlines focused on concerns on college campuses in Connecticut, “…we are not seeing a rash of hate crimes or any behaviors out of the ordinary for a system of 8,600 students.”
In response, on Monday Laura Kostin, a Greenwich Schools parent who serves on the Board of Education, told GFP, “One swastika in our schools is one too many.”
“There is no acceptable level of hate or antisemitism,” she said. “I unequivocally condemn any episode of hate or antisemitism directed to our GPS families.”
From there the group letter was sent to Dr. Jones saying that since the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on Oct 7, Jewish families in Greenwich were experiencing a high level of fear, pain and anxiety.
The letter goes on to say that Names Day at GHS, an annual event for 9th graders organized with the Anti-Defamation League was “not enough.”
The signers thanked the Superintendent for investigating the recent antisemitic graffiti, but added that was “not enough.”
They said that while they were grateful that children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors occasionally speak in Greenwich Schools, that was “not enough.”
The letter noted that Jews make up just 2.4% of the US population but according to the FBI they are the targets of over 60% of all religious based hate crimes in the US.
The letter asks the superintendent to share an action plan to train staff to identify and report antisemitic signs, slogans, remarks and gestures, and that those reports be made available to the community to assure transparency.
The signers also asked for a review of curriculum to ensure thoughtful instruction on the Holocaust, genocide and the history of Israel’s independence.
As for reporting incidents and consequences, the group asked that anonymous reporting at GHS to be extended to middle schools and elementary schools.
They said the district must communicate a zero tolerance policy of antisemitism and other forms of hate.
On Wednesday, Dr. Jones emailed GFP a response to the “Voices against Antisemitism” letter saying she had had extended conversations with some BOE members and heard from many local families about their concerns.
She described the letter as passionate and the plea to “want more” was clear and understandable.
“As a district, we are doing a rigorous review of our curriculum, ensuring that students are given thoughtful and age-appropriate instruction on the horrors of the Holocaust and genocide worldwide,” Jones wrote.
“Here at GPS, we call out hate. We do not tolerate any hateful action whatsoever. Antisemitism is not acceptable. We want to clearly acknowledge that to our entire community.”