This story was updated March 12 at 10:30 a.m.
Drawings of swastikas discovered in bathroom stalls at Jefferson Middle School in Mt. Lebanon are being investigated by police, according to letters sent to the school’s families from its principal, Sarah Shaw.
“We are taking this incident very seriously,” read the first letter, dated March 2, after the first swastika was found. “An investigation began immediately, and the Mt. Lebanon Police Department is involved. The administration will take appropriate disciplinary action for those found responsible for this incident.”
The letter also stressed there is “zero-tolerance for discriminatory behavior in our school.”
On March 9, a second swastika drawing was discovered.
“The inappropriateness of the use of this symbol will be discussed directly with students as part of our Tuesday Talk program tomorrow morning,” Shaw wrote to families in a March 9 letter. “This essential conversation and the continued education of our students is imperative as we are committed to creating a school and community that is welcoming and inclusive.”
Shaw also shared resource links, including one to the Anti-Defamation League, on how to talk to young children about bias and prejudice.
“Sadly, we have seen a rise in anti-Semitic threats and incidents in our community,” said Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “When you see an event like this at a school, it is a reminder of the importance of educating our young people on the impact that anti-Semitism and bigotry can have. Those images are painful reminders, and to see them displayed in a middle school is less likely due to hate or bias, and more likely due to lack of awareness of their impact.”
If the drawings were acts of hate or bias, Brokos added, “intervention at this age is critical. Community security is a collective effort. Certainly law enforcement is a large part of that, but we all have a role to play in raising awareness of bigotry of any kind and intervening to mitigate it.”
Mt. Lebanon Deputy Chief of Police Jason Haberman confirmed that there is an active investigation but said there wasn’t much he could offer since the students are juveniles.
“We want to ensure that the children are held accountable,” Haberman said “but we also want them to learn from the experience and understand the effects of their behavior. We’re going to work with the school personnel and the parents to ensure that all involved are not only held accountable, but are also provided with the necessary guidance and assistance.”
In 2017, “Kill the Jews!” was found spelled out in pine cones, along with a swastika, at a Mt. Lebanon intersection crossed daily by students on their way to and from school. PJC