About 75 parents raked the principal of the F.A. Day Middle School over the coals in Newton, Massachusetts Wednesday night after finding out about a third anti-Semitic incident at the school.
The parents – who received a letter over the weekend telling them “Burn the Jews” was again scrawled on the boys’ bathroom wall – were angry they were not informed about the first two incidents.
“My initial response to these incidents did not convey the moral outrage I felt at this violation of our core values,” Turner wrote in his letter on Feb. 25. “I apologize for not promptly and publicly notifying the school community about these unacceptable actions.”
“Hateful graffiti” was found at the school in October, followed by a second incident in January when a swastika was discovered imprinted in the snow “just off school grounds on the way to Albemarle Road,” Turner’s letter said.
Neither was reported to the parents, school administrators or the police. But on Feb. 22, photos of the vandalism were sent in an anonymous letter to city officials, Newton Police and the local Anti-Defamation League.
The response was instantaneous.
Newton Police spokesperson Lt. Bruce Apotheker said in a statement that police were “forwarded an anonymous letter” on Feb. 22 that made them aware of two anti-Semitic incidents at the school.
Both of those incidents plus the third one that followed on March 4 are being investigated as hate crimes, police said. A report by WHDH called the “hateful graffiti” a copycat of the previous incident.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren said in a statement the incidents were “very troubling.” He added that officials were launching an investigation into how they remained unreported for months.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, parents wanted to know why Principal Brian Turner decided to keep the incidents quiet.
School superintendent David Fleishman, also present, made no excuses.
Neither did Turner, who took responsibility up front. “My big mistake was not promptly and publicly communicating about these incidents with the police, the superintendent, teachers, students and parents,” Turner told the parents.
“During the last three weeks my integrity’s been questioned. Some people feel I’ve been insensitive to anti-Semitism, some people think I’ve lied and others think that my explanations about the school’s response have been defensive and disingenuous – and for all of this I apologize,” he said.
“Do you understand the damage that has been done to our children,” asked a parent quoted by the Boston Globe. “Have you asked yourself why you buried this?”
Turner acknowledged in reply that he should have gone to the police. But he added that he initially believed the words too hurtful to be repeated and publicized.
“In order to confront hate you need to mouth those words,” the parent told him.
But Rabbi Eric Gurvis of Temple Shalom defended the principal, saying that he doesn’t think “we have a school system or a community that tolerates hate.” Gurvis told the Boston Globe that many of his congregants send their children to the school. He later spoke with Turner by phone and said the principal’s heart was “broken.”
Fleishman, meanwhile, has said he will enforce a protocol requiring all hate speech to be reported to police and the school administration. He also said the Anti-Defamation League is working with the schools to educate faculty and students.
School officials are supposed to report “any incident involving an actual or suspected hate crime” to the police under the terms of the most recent memorandum of understanding between Newton Police and the School Department. Fleishman told the Newton TAB he would be initiating discussions with district leadership about how and when to publicly address such issues in the future.