By Kevin Deutsch
A sixth-grader at Westglades Middle School in Parkland found a swastika drawn in marker on one of the school’s bathroom walls Monday, his mother said.
Now, the parent wants answers from education officials about what’s being done to combat antisemitism in local schools—and hold the offending student accountable.
“If I don’t open my mouth and make the community aware, it will be swept under the rug as if it didn’t happen,” said the mother, whose name Parkland Talk is withholding because her son witnessed an act of hate. “From my own personal experience living here, that is most likely to occur.”
The mother, who lives in Parkland, was told by Westglades Middle School administrators this week that a report was filed with law enforcement and that a “thorough” investigation had already been conducted.
But she’s received no specific information in response to her queries about the incident, including what the law enforcement investigation entailed or how the school district plans to deal with antisemitism at Westglades and other schools.
Local Jewish leaders had also not been made aware of the antisemitic incident, which the mother reported to the Anti-Defamation League.
“Something is wrong” with the response from the school and district, she said.
“While administration acknowledged the incident, the response indicates a lack of awareness regarding the severity of the crime,” she said.
“This is not just a symbol. This is hate. This is someone who wants Jewish people to die.”
John J. Sullivan, Chief Communications Officer for Broward County Public Schools, said in a written statement that the school district “does not tolerate displays of bigotry and hate and is committed to educating students about the profound impact of bias.”
“As soon as the image was discovered on Monday, May 2, facilities personnel on campus had it cleaned up within minutes, and a report was filed with the Broward Sheriff’s Office School Resource Deputy,” wrote Sullivan. “The school regrets that such an incident took place on its campus, as it places great emphasis on creating an environment of acceptance and tolerance for the entire school community, which includes participating in the Anti-Defamation League’s student-driven anti-bias program “No Place For Hate.” Any student(s) who participated in this incident will face disciplinary consequences in accordance with the Code for Student Conduct.”
The mother said her son was “startled” by the hateful symbol, which had the word “swastika” printed beneath it.
“He knew what it was, but not fully. He took a picture, and he brought it right back to class and showed his teacher. He was scared to have the photo on his phone because he didn’t want to get in trouble.”
After the boy came home from school, he told his mother, ‘I have to tell you something,” and showed her the photo, the woman said.
The mother said she wants to know from educators and school officials “what they are going to change” to address antisemitism.
“What programs are going to be implemented? How is the person going to be held accountable? What are you going to do?”
The parent said she does not want any more Parkland students’ lives lost after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
“We have already seen the horrific result of ignoring and not addressing the reality in our schools,” she said.
The Anti-Defamation League said it was offering support and educational resources to Westglades Middle.
“We have spoken with a family impacted by this incident, reached out to the school, and offered our support and resources,” said Sarah Emmons, Regional Director for ADL Florida.
“We are concerned that antisemitic incidents are rising in Florida and around the country,” Emmons added. “Antisemitism and bigotry of all kinds must be called out, challenged, and students must be empowered to embrace diversity and inclusivity. Symbols of hate are generally used to instill messages of fear and intimidation in entire communities, so it is vital to have appropriate and effective responses.”
Antisemitic incidents have been on the rise across Broward County and statewide, data show.
According to recently released statistics compiled by the ADL, Florida saw a dramatic 50 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in 2021 with 190 incidents. That surge followed a 40 percent increase from 2019 to 2020.
Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism reported to ADL.
That total represents the highest number of incidents on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979–an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year, according to the organization.
This story has been updated with a response from the Anti-Defamation League.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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