Graffiti of swastika, N-word found under desk in Jewish teacher’s Park City classroom
Park City High School principal’s letter to community notes ‘multiple incidents’ of hate speech in recent weeks
There have been “multiple incidents” of hate speech in recent weeks at Park City High School, according to a letter to the school community by PCHS Principal Roger Arbabi.
“The hate speech has appeared in the form of swastikas and racial slurs at multiple locations,” the letter stated.
Josh Goldberg, a social studies teacher, said one of his students discovered a swastika and the N-word on the bottom of a desk in his classroom.
“Was it targeted? I mean, I’m a Jewish teacher. I run a Jewish student club out of that classroom. It’s created major, major waves now,” he said.
Since word spread about expressions of hate at Park City High School, Goldberg said he has received at least 50 emails from students, parents and community members sharing numerous incidents of hate, racism or other unwelcoming behavior that occurred at the high school and other district schools.
“This is not just an attack on me personally or on Jews, obviously, because the N-word was included, but it’s an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on decency. It’s an attack on good people who believe in empathy, caring, and kindness and my response is to fight this with everything I’ve got. And I’m getting a lot of support,” Goldberg said.
When he got his first glimpse of the graffiti under the desk, it was “incredibly painful,” he said.
He immediately reported it to the school administration, which promptly removed it from the desk.
Then Goldberg used the incident as a learning opportunity for his students “where we talked about an intolerance for hate speech, the pain and the history behind the symbol,” which in the United States is largely viewed as a hate symbol.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the swastika is an ancient symbol that emerged independently among many cultures on several continents. Before the 20th century, its use was almost always benign.
“The murderous legacy of the Nazi regime, especially the Holocaust, permanently converted the swastika into a symbol of hate, anti-Semitism and infamy. Since 1945, the swastika has served as the most significant and notorious of hate symbols, anti-Semitism and white supremacy for most of the world outside of Asia,” the league’s website states.
When Goldberg spoke to his students, “it was dead silent. People were devastated. Kids are coming to me crying, I mean kids that aren’t even my students. They don’t know where to turn. They have no one to turn to. I mean, people are scared, people are afraid and people are hurt,” he said.
Arbabi’s letter further stated, “As a community, we have zero tolerance for language or imagery that expresses hate towards a person or group based on religion, race, disability, sex or sexual orientation.”
The letter urges stakeholders to report any hate speech observed at school to an administrator, trusted adult or through the SafeUT app.
School administrators, in conjunction with counselors and teachers, will work to provide “learning opportunities for our students to identify and stop hate speech,” Arbabi wrote.
Goldberg said some of his teaching colleagues talked to their students about the incidents, for which he was grateful.
Effectively responding to hate will take many partners, he said.
“I appreciate Mr. Arbabi’s response very much. I think the only way through this is to partner, that whatever organizations we’re talking about, representing Latinos, LGBTQ-plus, Jewish communities, everybody, LDS communities. We have to really partner together to combat hate. We’ve got to start somewhere. I’m looking forward to working to do everything I can to educate and to make a major change here,” he said.
Goldberg said the experience in his classroom was deeply personal because “most of my family was murdered in the Holocaust.”
In the 20-plus years he’s been teaching, “I’ve carried these lessons with me and I’ve taught all my students over the years. ... The students know what kind of culture I create in my classroom, and they know that there’s no tolerance for this. In fact, I teach the opposite. This was a very painful attack that hit me deep down in what I consider sacred work. It’s taken me days to kind of process and deal with this. I’m so grateful for the support of my fellow teachers and many of the students,” Goldberg said.
Park City School District serves about 5,000 students, 20% of whom identify as Latino, 8% English language learners, 7% with disabilities, and 22% who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, according to the district’s website.
A statement by Park City School District Superintendent Jill Gildea said in part: “When an incident of racist language, hate speech or negative messaging occurs, this action goes against everything for which our schools stand; it is completely contrary to our core values, vision and goals as a learning organization. It is hurtful to all.”
It notes that the school district works to support students and staff who have been affected by the incidents, and “we want to assure every student and employee that we are committed to safety and well-being.
“Any incident such as racist messaging is additional evidence of the pressing need in our schools, our community and our nation to find ways to talk constructively and respectfully about diversity, religion and race,” Gildea said.
She said she was encouraged by the efforts of staff and students “to lean into challenging conversations about race by creating a task force to further research, review and generate action plans that halt intolerant speech or behavior in its tracks; share how they are personally impacted by racism; and contribute to our work to provide schools that are safe, supportive, engaged, challenged and healthy — and where every student feels a sense of belonging.”
Goldberg said the graffiti under the desk was symbolic for him. If there’s festering hate or intolerance that has been unleashed for whatever reason, “the longer we let it fester, the longer we ignore it, the more powerful and the more evil will grow. So we’ve got to confront evil, you know, where it lies, and for me, this is a hill worth dying on.”
He has deep convictions about his faith, history and culture. Goldberg served in the Israeli military “not to oppress anyone but to stand up for what I believe is right.”
As a father and educator, Goldberg said he is duty bound to seek change.
“I cannot leave the world broken and not knowing that I’ve done my best to make it right,” he said.