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RM staff discover swastikas drawn in school building

RM+Principal+Alicia+Deeny+leads+a+joint+meeting+with+the+JSU+and+Students+Against+Antisemitism+club+to+address+student+concerns.+
Mayah Nachman
RM Principal Alicia Deeny leads a joint meeting with the JSU and Students Against Antisemitism club to address student concerns.

RM staff discovered swastikas drawn throughout the school building on three occasions in the past two weeks.

RM Principal Alicia Deeny wrote a message to the RM community on March 12 after the swastikas were found drawn onto the stalls in the boys bathrooms. The next day, on March 13, Ms. Deeny sent an additional message sharing that the school was able to identify the student who was the source of the graffiti after they had discovered another swastika drawing in a bathroom.

Ms. Deeny sent an additional email on March 19 after more swastika drawings were found in a stairwell and door at RM. According to her email, the person who drew these symbols is still yet to be identified but the incident is still being investigated by school security and administration.

In her emails, Ms, Deeny wrote that students who are responsible for these incidents would be dealt with in accordance with the MCPS Code of Conduct. Additionally, she discussed that this incident was reported to the Rockville City Police Department and that the school is following the MCPS Hate Bias Protocol.

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In the email sent on March 19, Ms. Deeny wrote, “We will not shy away from fully investigating and confronting this incident and any situation that causes our students to feel unsafe.”

Some students and staff have felt that the school has been very attentive in addressing this issue.

“I think administration has been very responsive and proactive in responding to this. Ms. Deeny reached out right away to see how we’re doing and ask if the students wanted to talk to her about it, which I really appreciated and the students really appreciated as well,” government, theory of knowledge teacher and sponsor of the Jewish Student Union Mr. Noah Grosfeld-Katz said.

This incident comes amidst a 337 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the US since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, according to the ADL. However, before the war began, Maryland was reported to have the tenth most antisemitic incidents out of any states in the US, according to the ADL.

For Jewish people, all these small acts hurt people and there’s more impact to these actions than people realize.

— Maddie Walsh

With Montgomery County having one of the highest Jewish populations in the US with 10 percent of residents being Jewish, many RM students have felt the impacts of the recent rise in antisemitism. This incident is not the first in MCPS, with other instances of antisemitic graffiti discovered at other schools such as Quince Orchard High School, Thomas W. Pyle Middle School and Chevy Chase Elementary School.

Many Jewish students at RM have begun to feel unsafe as a result of the symbols being discovered throughout the school.

“I think that it’s really upsetting and I just want people to understand that for Jewish people, all these small acts hurt people and there’s more impact to these actions than people realize,”co-President of the JSU and senior Maddie Walsh said.

To address these concerns, Ms. Deeny held a joint meeting with the JSU and Students Against Antisemitism club on March 18. Student organizations such as these provide opportunities for RM students to find solidarity, participate in community projects, and advocate for themselves when needed.

“We always want students to be able to advocate for themselves, so I think that it’s important that students are able to form clubs where they can advocate from different perspectives so we can hear from all of our different communities at RM,” science teacher and sponsor of Students Against Antisemitism Allison Adams said.

In this meeting, students were able to share their thoughts about this incident and what they want to see from the RM administration and the school district as a whole.

The Jewish community right now at RM and MCPS is feeling more and more scared and less confident that things are going to get better, and I think they’re not going to unless we educate people.

— Jillian Hilwig

Many expressed that they were not shocked by the incident because of the stark rise in antisemitism in recent months.

“It’s been happening around Montgomery County so it wasn’t super surprising, but I was upset to see that it had hit RM,” junior and co-President of the JSU Julia Fine said.

Many are hoping for MCPS and the state to begin to require Holocaust education as there is currently no formal requirement in Maryland.

“I think the Jewish community right now at RM and MCPS is feeling more and more scared and less confident that things are going to get better, and I think they’re not going to unless we educate people,” founder and president of Students Against Antisemitism and senior Jillian Hilwig said.

The leaders of the JSU and Students Against Antisemitism have also been working with Ms. Deeny to find new ways to educate students about antisemitism and the impacts of this incident.

“I think we just need more increased curriculum overall. A lot of my friends who aren’t Jewish don’t know that much about the Holocaust…especially at a young age so we can build a foundation in people’s minds about what happened in the Holocaust and the hatred of Jewish people,” Walsh said.

In addition to an advisory lesson, the students are looking into planning an assembly to promote a deeper understanding of the swastika as a symbol of hate and impacts on the Jewish community.

“Having an emotional connection can really impact you so…we had the idea to have a holocaust survivor speak to a certain grade or the whole school so people can really see how it had an impact on people’s lives…feel connected to it and have a personal connection,” Fine said.

This story was originally published on The Tide on March 22, 2024.