CROSS RIVER, N.Y. -- In a Friday statement, Katonah-Lewisboro Schools Superintendent Andrew Selesnick strongly condemned the carving of swastikas into a tree at John Jay High School.
“As a District, we are saddened and angered by the appearance of symbols of hatred in our community,” Selesnick said. “When events such as these occur, it is important first and foremost to shine a light immediately on what has occurred, to name it, and to condemn it.”
The incident is the second of its kind to take place in Katonah-Lewisboro in less than a month. Painted swastikas were discovered on playground equipment at the shuttered Lewisboro Elementary School (LES) in late December. Three suspects, who are local students, have been arrested in connection with the earlier incident.
Selesnick declined to name the student suspects in the LES vandalism, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is a federal law.
In a separate letter, John Jay High School Principal Steven Siciliano informed the community that student assemblies were held on Friday to discuss the incident and the pain that the swastika conveys as a symbol.
Below are copies of a press release including Selesnick's statement, followed by Siciliano's letter. Italics have been added for visual differentiation while a dotted line separates each message:
KLSD reaffirms a climate of acceptance and inclusion for all
Swastikas were discovered carved into a tree on the John Jay High School campus yesterday afternoon, just three weeks after a swastika was found on the playground of Lewisboro Elementary School.
Lewisboro Police were immediately contacted and an investigation has begun by both the police and the high school administration. The State and Lewisboro Police have apprehended three students in conjunction with the graffiti at Lewisboro Elementary.
“As a District, we are saddened and angered by the appearance of symbols of hatred in our community,” said Katonah-Lewisboro Superintendent Andrew Selesnick. “When events such as these occur, it is important first and foremost to shine a light immediately on what has occurred, to name it, and to condemn it.”
Selesnick said the high school principal called students and staff together Friday morning to convey that same message, to assure that such behavior is not, and never will be, acceptable in the community, and to begin thinking about the most productive ways to move forward.
“As an educational institution, we are always working to teach our students the lessons of history. We are always working to convey the expectation and the need for acceptance, compassion, and respect,” Selesnick said. “The events of the last few weeks cause us to reflect on where and how we can strengthen the work we are already doing. We have reached out to organizations outside the school because this work does not and should not belong to the schools alone. It is critical that we commit ourselves to educating and raising children as a community. These events serve as a reminder of the importance of our partnership.”
Superintendent Selesnick declined to name the students apprehended in the first swastika incident, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA prohibits the release of student records, including disciplinary records, without the consent of the student’s parent. He added, however, that the district’s Code of Conduct spells out a range of consequences up to suspension from school.
“We are entrusted with the community’s children, and we take that responsibility seriously. Children are here to learn and sometimes their most challenging lessons occur outside the classroom,” Selesnick said.
January 20, 2017
Dear JJHS Community,
This message is a follow up after informing the community of anti-Semitic graffiti found on the high school campus yesterday.
First thing this morning, I called together our 9th and 10th graders, and our 11th and 12th graders, in two separate assemblies in order to speak with them in person about recent events. It is my hope that all of our families reflect on the day’s assemblies with their children this evening and assist us in our ongoing work.
As part of the assemblies, students were informed about the discovery of swastikas on school grounds yesterday. A discussion about the pain such symbols of hate create for individuals and the community ensued. I’m gratified but not surprised to report our students knew exactly why such symbols have no place in our community. In addition to discussing why such acts are painful and intolerable everywhere in the Katonah-Lewisboro Schools and our society, we also focused on how our students have the agency, guidance, and support to turn this pain into a truer representation of who we are and what we stand for.
The recently celebrated birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave us all context to explore his words of how only light can drive out darkness. His prophetic words also challenged all of us at the high school to find avenues to “turn on the light,” and we will work to do so.
Our student body (and especially our student leaders) were called upon to partner with their peers, teachers, and administrators, to find ways to consciously and intentionally express and affirm our desire to be a culture where all are valued, respected, and belong.
Thank you for your continued support in keeping all of our students safe and whole.
Dr. Steven T. Siciliano