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Swastikas Discovered In Katonah-Lewisboro School District For Third Time

Katonah-Lewisboro Superintendent Andrew Selesnick.
Katonah-Lewisboro Superintendent Andrew Selesnick. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

LEWISBORO, N.Y. -- Yet another vandalism incident involving swastikas has been discovered in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District.

Schools Superintendent Andrew Selesnick, who announced the incident in a Tuesday email to the community, said that it involved the discovery of swastikas drawn on two school bus seats.

The bus is used to take students to private schools, Selesnick added, and that a student reported the matter.

Police are investigating the latest vandalism after being informed by the district, according to Selesnick.

The incident is the district's third that involves vandalism depicting swastikas in less than a month. The first, which was reported in late December, involved swastikas being painted onto playground equipment at the shuttered Lewisboro Elementary School; three local students are suspects in the case. The second, announced last week, involves swastikas having been carved into a tree on the John Jay High School campus. Selesnick stated that police are also investigating that incident.

Below is a copy of Selesnick's Tuesday email, which italics added for visual clarity:

January 24, 2017

Dear KLSD Community,

With a mixture of sadness and anger, I write again on the topic of swastikas on school property. I write today to share with you the most recent event, and to be sure that all members of our community are aware of the now three events that have come to light in recent weeks.

The first event was the graffiti, including swastikas, found on the playground at Lewisboro Elementary School during our schools’ winter break. As I shared in a recent email, the police were successful in determining who was responsible for that graffiti. The second event occurred just this past Thursday, January 19, when swastikas were found on a tree on the John Jay High School campus. The police are currently investigating that incident, and as yet, have not determined who might be responsible and whether or not there is any connection to the first event. The third event was yesterday when, at the end of the day, a student reported the presence of swastikas drawn on two seats in a school bus that travels only to private schools. Once again, the police were immediately notified and they have commenced an investigation.

Understandably, members of our community have been asking how the schools are attempting to address these issues, what school consequences are provided in the event that students are found to be responsible, and what we can do together as a community to confront this deeply troubling sequence of events.

Spreading awareness is the first step. It is important that the entire community be aware of what has happened and how we’ve responded so far. I appreciate those community members who, after Principal Siciliano sent out informational emails on Friday to the high school community, let us know that this was information for the entire community to know. We agree, and that’s one of the reasons for today’s letter. We can be more effective when we have common knowledge and work together. With that in mind, for those who may not know, Dr. Siciliano appropriately and thoughtfully called the entire high school (students and staff) together on Friday morning, to be sure all were aware of what had been found the day before and to condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Students and staff were asked that morning to begin thinking about how best to come together as community to stand up against acts of hatred.

A few days earlier, school principals and I met with representatives of our community’s inter-faith council, to open a dialogue about how we work together in support of the children and the community we serve. That dialogue will most certainly continue. Additionally, we have been in communication with the Anti-Defamation League to understand the resources they have available for schools and communities who want to stand up against hatred. My thanks to the ADL for providing the document attached to this letter. I ask all our families to read the attached statement about the history and impact of the swastika and to have conversation about the importance of standing together against this symbol and the hatred it represents.

In terms of consequences, our Code of Conduct identifies suspension from school (the length can vary) as the punishment appropriate for the most serious violations. In addition, we consider consequences intended to help students better understand the nature of the committed infraction. But we do not discuss the specific consequences given to particular students. We don’t do that both because it would be a violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and because we don’t believe in holding individual students up as examples, even when those students have made egregious errors. Let no student and no family have any doubt about the seriousness with which we approach expressions of hatred, but let there also be no doubt that our primary mission as a school district compels us to treat all of our students with respect and compassion. We model in our own behavior the expectations to which we hold all our students.

I ask all to think of these recent events as a challenge not just to those of us who work and study in the schools, but to our community as a whole. I commit to you that we will do what we can, within the walls of the schools, to help students understand the awful power and legacy of that symbol. But the work of combating hatred doesn’t end with the school day or at the perimeters of school property. The work of inspiring compassion and respect is work for us all.

Earlier today, you received a reminder about Friday’s previously scheduled Superintendent’s Coffee at Increase Miller Elementary School. I certainly expect this will be one topic of conversation on Friday. But given the significance of recent events, I also want to be sure we dedicate time and space for this topic alone. Please know that in the coming weeks we will extend an invitation to members of the community who want to join us for further conversation on this most challenging topic.

Sincerely,

Andrew Selesnick

Superintendent of Schools

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