Swastikas found on art desk; Nelson steps up after initial lack of response


Photo by Anonymous Student

Pictured above are the swastikas found in art room 187 after winter break on Jan. 3.

On Monday, Jan. 3, three swastikas were found drawn on an art table in room 187, where senior class sponsor Unsil Kim teaches. Swastikas had also been found at Silver Creek Middle School and another unnamed school in the county. Montgomery County faced three reported acts of antisemitism at three different locations within 10 days.

Antisemitism is the prejudice against or hatred of Jewish people. Antisemitism can be shown through swastikas, a symbol of the Nazi regime that perpetuated the Holocaust, a genocide that slaughtered of over six million Jews.

Antisemitism has been on the rise in Montgomery County. One of the first significant incidents was antisemitic graffiti sprayed on a wall near the Bethesda Trolley Trail. Since then, there have been numerous acts of antisemitism, including the phrase “Jews Not Welcome” painted on the entrance sign at Walt Whitman High School, located in Bethesda.

The swastikas were found and reported by a student who wishes to remain anonymous to senior class administrator Stephanie Labbe on Jan. 5. In the following 15 days, Labbe did not inform Nelson, according to Principal Doug Nelson. After seeing no action taken, the student took further initiative and reported it to Nelson on Jan. 20.

Nelson took immediate action and informed the MCPS Office of School Security and Emergency Management and the Office of School Support and Well-Being. “At Wootton, we are taking specific actions to ensure we are actively working to confront these acts of antisemitism. The Instructional Leadership Team, of which I am a member, is working with the Student Government Association to implement a plan that will work to tackle this issue further,” Nelson said.

Nelson implemented a 10-step plan by first informing the school community about this antisemitic hate crime through advisory class periods. Teachers were asked to show a video message at the start of the advisory. The video informed the students of the occurrence and educated students about the effects of antisemitism.

Nelson offered additional support, inviting students to speak with their counselors in the college and career center at lunch following the announcement. During the week of Jan. 23, Nelson also allowed any students to visit the counselor’s office at any time.

Nelson informed students and staff that he had opened an investigation with Montgomery County police to solve this hate crime. “Our work starts now, today; we take immediate action,” Nelson said.

At Wootton, we are taking specific actions to ensure we are actively working to confront these acts of antisemitism. ”

— Douglas Nelson

Jewish Student Union sponsored Rabbi, Samuel Beckerman said he is upset with recent antisemitic events and hopes for change. “It’s unfortunate we see these things happen in our community. I grew up in this community, and never did anything like this happen. A lot of people have made noise, and no action has been taken. If there is something … the community and schools can do, we need to take action in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Beckerman said.

Some students feel that this hate crime has not been taken seriously enough and that other students shrug their shoulders about it. “I have heard many kids talk about not caring about the swastikas drawn. I heard many students talking through the video at advisory and not listening. I hope more students take this more seriously,” a senior who wishes to remain anonymous said.

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, members of the Jewish Student Union and Jewish faculty members were invited to discuss ways that the school can help build a better understanding that there is no place for hatred and that every person should be valued and respected.

Editor’s note: the original version of this article has been updated based on new information