Parent Concerns Increase Over WHS Swastika

Community tension is heating up following the discovery of a swastika scratched into a locker at Wilton High School earlier this week. On Tuesday, school officials confirmed to GOOD Morning Wilton that the defaced locker was in between two lockers belonging to two Jewish students.

That knowledge has several parents, both Jewish and not Jewish, concerned that the action was not an ‘accidental’ one, but rather that it was targeted at specific students.

“Whether this ultimately turns out to fall under the category of a bias crime, that will be determined as we go through the full investigation. That is certainly something that’s under consideration, given the type of symbol that was scratched into the locker,” said Lt. Donald Wakeman of the Wilton Police Department. “We have to make sure as we investigate further and we learn further information, whatever information we may possibly gain from our suspect–if we gain any–whether all of that information put together will fall under what’s needed for that bias crime statue.”

Multiple parents reached out to GOOD Morning Wilton in the wake of our coverage of the incident, and while they did not want to go on the record they expressed a fear that the incident might be more than a case of simply a one-time occurrence. Several comments on the Facebook page alluded to a more complicated picture of the student believed to have etched the swastika on the locker. Some parents said their children were afraid to be in school, and several were trying to help their children process the feelings following the expression of anti-Semitism in the school.

There were comments urging the most punitive repercussion for the student–expulsion. One parent told, “If he is allowed to stay, that only sends a message that intolerance and prejudice will be tolerated.”

Part of the discussion centered around rumors of alarming images on social media pages belonging to the student said to be at the center of the investigation. Wilton PD’s Wakeman confirmed that they were aware of and had viewed posts belonging to the suspect.

“We are aware of social media postings, and that’s something we are also looking into as part of this investigation. It’s something that the school administration is also aware of–at least certain postings. That is another piece that we’ll factor into our investigation,” Wakeman said.

School officials are hoping to calm any fears parents and students may have. First and foremost, says WHS principal Robert O’Donnell, they understand the seriousness of what has occurred.

“It’s clearly an egregious act, I don’t care what the intent was. It was on a locker in our high school. It’s unacceptable,” he said.

He also wants people to feel safe about having their children at school. “I want to see us work through this for these families. I want these kids coming in here wanting to be here, and I do feel as if, knowing what I know, we have done and are doing what we can to ensure that will take place.”

What is difficult for O’Donnell to discuss, however, is what kind of punitive measures the school can take, because he’s bound by legal and privacy concerns to not say anything publicly. The only thing he said he could do was refer to specific pages (64-77) in the school policy, included in the online student handbook, acknowledging that there is a process school officials have to follow “that will take some time.”

“If a suspension or expulsion were involved, that is the information we’d be working through. As you can see there’s a level of complexity to that information–legal references, general statutes, guidelines and regulations. I just can’t comment on the disciplinary action that we’ve taken,” O’Donnell said.

What he hopes will reassure parents is that the student involved is not currently in classes at WHS, adding, “What parents can conclude is the student is not here. We’ve taken it very, very seriously.”

O’Donnell did respond to another rumor, one that speculated the student involved had already received his punishment–that of a 5-day suspension:  “It’s not true.”

O’Donnell says he’s spent time communicating with families who have reached out to him as well as with community leaders, including Rabbi Rachel Bearman of Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown.

“I’ve heard them. What I’ve expressed to families I spoke with today and to Rabbi Bearman, we’ve taken a very strong stance on this. The student is not here right now. I can’t tell you how long he’s out for and what we’re working on right now. The difficulty is that it’s a very private matter when we’re talking about a student. We’ve implemented the policy and we’re working on how we’re going to handle it with the [main administrative] Central Office, and I have every reason to believe the students are safe here, based on what I know and how we’re handling it.”

One way the district is handling it is through additional police presence, according to Lt. Wakeman.

“In addition to the normal school resource officer that is posted at the high school, the patrol officers have been tasked with providing an additional presence at the high school. Without discussing specifics about additional security, just patrol officers in marked police cars will be at the high school periodically over the course of any given day. Their presence will be increased at this period of time.”

When asked to clarify what ‘this period of time’ is, Wakeman said, “if we still have an active investigation, it’s ongoing and very fresh. At this point, you can expect to see police officers in and out of the high school property. Not necessarily walking the hallways, but that’s something officers do on occasion anyway. As part of the duties they will patrol through the lots and the driveway, and make their presence known.”

Community Leaders React

Rabbi Bearman told that she “feels confident the district is taking the incident seriously.” She says she’s in touch with the school and at this point her role is to stay available for the B’nai Chaim congregants and community.

In addition, State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) released a statement Tuesday about the discovery of the swastika on a school locker.

“At a time when the world’s eyes are on tensions in the Middle East and anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head, this should never be tolerated; we should use this as a teachable moment to bring the history of Israel and its struggles to our students. Sadly, hate crimes can take place anywhere, and the measure of a community is not whether they occur, but how a community responds.”

Senator Boucher is the ranking member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee.