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Hate symbols return; antisemitism remains prevalent in building

A+swastika%2C+now+removed%2C+was+found+drawn+on+the+back+table+of+Room+187+on+Sept.+7.
Photo by Elizabeth Mehler
A swastika, now removed, was found drawn on the back table of Room 187 on Sept. 7.

On Sept. 7 Principal Douglas Nelson sent a message informing the school community that a swastika was found drawn on a desk, continuing a pattern within this school of hateful incidents toward the Jewish community that began last school year.

A student reported to art teacher Unsil Kim that a swastika was drawn on a desk in Room 187 on Sept. 7. Kim immediately informed the administration and Nelson reported the incident to both MCPS and the Rockville and Montgomery County Police. The police determined not to investigate the incident, however, the school will continue with their own investigation. “We have talked with individuals involved, we already have information that’s been initially reported. We work with staff and students, and basically what information we can ascertain within the building to conduct our investigation,” Nelson said.

Investigating antisemitic incidents is not a first for Nelson. Last school year there were four investigations for four separate incidents of swastikas being drawn on desks in this school but the students responsible were never found. “While we did not ever find a specific student, I did find each investigation taught me more about what we were dealing with. I really do believe that the person responsible is on notice because they know the investigation is taking place,” Nelson said.

The first incident occurred in Kim’s classroom on Jan. 3 of last school year, making this year’s incident the second swastika found in room 187. “I felt very disappointed when it was reported to me this school year. There were several incidents last year and many things were done to try to educate students,” Kim said.

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A rise in antisemitic acts occurred not only within the school but also throughout the county last year. In addition to the swastika drawing incidents in this school, the phrase “Jews Not Welcome” was painted on the entrance sign of Walt Whitman in December 2022.

Students were given the opportunity to visit their counselors in the college and career center following the announcement of the first swastika incident last school year. Amid the rise in antisemitism, additional educational measures were taken including presentations from Holocaust survivors and their families to educate students on the dangers of antisemitism, as well as an SGA spring project themed around advocacy.

After informing the community on Sept. 7, Nelson met with students and staff to discuss the incident in the Media Center the next day. Lessons will be delivered in the future to educate students, and the administration is planning on bringing No Place for Hate, a program created by the Anti-Defamation League focused on giving students the tools to proactively address bias and bullying, into our school.

Despite the measures taken since Jan. 3, not all students feel enough action was taken. Jewish senior Naomi Esterowitz has been disappointed with the administration’s reaction and feels more needs to be done. “Administration has not done anything to combat the situation besides put out a copy and pasted note for every time these symbols show up. No consequences and no disciplinary actions. It’s truly sad how Wootton is responding and reacting to this situation,” Esterowitz said.

Nelson has reiterated the importance of standing up against hate as students and staff move forward throughout this school year “As someone who empathizes with the Jewish community because I have experienced hate in my life, through hate you will oftentimes find that your allies and those who are most supportive always come through for you when the bad stuff occurs. In the tough stuff you must look for those moments of light and recognize that good comes out of even bad things,” Nelson said.

This story was originally published on Common Sense on September 18, 2023.