By Holly Crocco
The Carmel School Board once again spent time discussing ways to dispel acts of hate that have been on the rise at the district, during its Oct. 10 board meeting. The discussion came after two swastikas were recently found at the high school.
“I suspect that the board’s conversation will ultimately conclude with condemnation and a statement that hate will not be tolerated,” said parent Ava Sanel. “But what I would like to hear is what is being done about the hateful acts that have already occurred. Who is investigating? Who is attempting to get to the route cause? Who is addressing the increasingly volatile atmosphere our young people are living in?”
The Carmel resident said the swastikas cannot just be brushed off as graffiti, as it is one of the most well-known symbols of hate. If, in fact, students don’t seem to understand what a swastika represents, then they need to be educated, she said.
“No kid should ever feel like they don’t belong,” said Sanel. “No kid should ever feel hated regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. Every kid should feel safe and not have to worry about being persecuted for who they are.”
The discussion came on the heels of a horrific attack by Hamas militants on Israel on Oct. 7, which is being called by some as “the deadliest day of Jews since the Holocaust.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Israel who are facing unimaginable tragedy,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Joseph McGrath.
Focusing on the swastikas that were found at Carmel High School, he asked residents not to let the acts of a few give the wrong impression of the district.
“I know that the vast majority of our kids are abhorrent, abhorrent to these acts,” said McGrath. “These acts not only hurt our community, but create a diminishment of the character and the prospects of those who commit them. And there are serious consequences to these antisemitic hate symbols.”
McGrath said he has been meeting with stakeholders, including the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center and the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education, and was saddened to learn from the Anti-Defamation League that it is seeing large increases in instances of hate. In 2022, it tabulated a 36 percent increase from 2021, he said.
“This is the third time in five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded,” said the superintendent. “This is a real problem… We in Carmel will continue to be vigilant and confront instances of hate. We will be united in our effort so that every child who goes here is going to feel safe and validated.”
McGrath noted that, as required by New York State law, the district has various curriculum at all levels in the district to educate students not only about the Holocaust and specific events in history, but about civility, citizenship, community and more.
“This is not a subject avoided in schools,” he said. “In fact, this is part of why we study history. These events can never be allowed to happen again.”
In addition to curriculum, students hear from a Holocaust survivor every year, and this year a special lesson on hate symbols is being added to hopefully empower students about what these symbols represent.
“We are going to keep revisiting this, and we are going to keep talking about it,” said McGrath.
Trustee Melissa Orser noted that the latest discovery of hate symbols at the district are nothing new.
“These are not the first incidents of swastikas in our school,” she told McGrath. “I’m not sure if you know that. It may be the first two reported to the superintendent… But this isn’t just two incidents.”
Orser said she hopes the board can work with the administration to help create a better culture in the community as a whole, not just in the schools.
“This is not just education in the classroom, this is statistically shown to all of us that the incidents of hating Jews is rising,” she said. “When your child is exposed to a swastika, it’s that deep. That is the symbol of wanting to eradicate your family from existence.”
Trustee James Wise agreed.
“We need to talk about a change in the culture of the district,” he said “We need to talk about accountability. We need to talk about what happens when these incidents occur.”
Parent Abigail Lyons suggested the district hold another “dialogue on race” event.
“It was very eye-opening and there are many races here,” she said. “So to have this open dialogue, to have this discussion, maybe things that are happening in the schools will die down. I know it’s not a perfect world. I know kids will be kids. But, unfortunately, at the high school age, that should not be an excuse.”