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ADL: ‘Chilling’ That Ojai Students Formed Swastika on Campus

[additional-authors]
January 3, 2019
Screenshot from Facebook.

The Anti-Defamation League told the Journal in an email that the fact that nine students at an Ojai, California, middle school joined together to form a swastika on campus in December was chilling.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Matilija Junior High School sent a letter on Dec. 14 to parents explaining that the nine students laid down together on a field to create a human swastika. The letter also noted that there were 12 students who were part of a group chat that contained “racist, sexually inappropriate and threatening commentary, including a comment about bringing knives to school,” per the Times.

Sgt. Shane Matthews from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office told the Times that one of the posts in the chat featured a student who shared a photo of a sword, although the police determined that none of the students posed a threat to the school. The school is disciplining the students though, according to Matthews.

Ojai Unified School District Superintendent Andy Cantwell told the Times that the district is looking into ways to provide “sensitivity” education to the school and the district.

“It does not represent the character of our school. … It also doesn’t represent the character of these students,” Cantwell said. “They made very poor choices, not understanding the gravity of these symbols.”

Cyndi Silverman, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Santa Barbara and Tri-Counties Region, told the Journal in an emailed statement that the students forming a human swastika was “chilling.”

“We’re glad the school is taking steps to address the issue, and plan to offer our anti-bias education programs to the district,” Silverman said. “In 2017, we saw a 94% increase in hate incidents in K-12 schools, and, unfortunately, this is yet another example of this disturbing trend. This is reminder of the ongoing need for Holocaust and anti-bias education in our schools.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper similarly suggested in a statement sent to the Journal via email, “The entire middle school students and adults need to spend time at the Museum of Tolerance.”

“This isn’t just about a school,” Cooper added. “How we treat the other is one of the key lessons learned or unlearned in school. It’s a matter of accountability and an opportunity for the school and the community.”

Roz Rothstein, daughter of Holocaust Survivors and CEO of StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization, told the Journal in an email, “The school has a responsibility to teach, and this is clearly a profound teaching moment.  Unfortunately, some students may think it is ‘cool’ to invoke images of swastikas without realizing what it really symbolizes and how many people died as a result of that deadly symbol and the dangerous racists who promoted it.”

“School administration, teachers and parents must educate students about the terrible consequences of hatred and racism,” Rothstein added. “This is a perfect time for sensitivity training and to bring in a Holocaust survivor who can tell their own story. There can be no room for racism of this, or any nature, and when things like this come up it must be treated seriously.”

The full letter, which was obtained by the Journal, can be seen below:

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