How the Park City school board responded to swastika, racial slur found in Jewish teacher’s classroom
School board says educating against hatred will always be a priority
After the discovery of the drawing of a swastika and the N-word in the classroom of a Park City High School teacher who is Jewish, the Park City Board of Education offered its assurances that “educating against hatred will always be a priority in Park City schools.”
The board issued a statement Tuesday that said in part, “to those who have been targeted by these hateful actions, we stand with you. How we respond together will dictate how we move forward as a community in combating hate and bigotry.”
The statement also took issue with “email campaigns, personal attacks and nasty comments on social media” that included “personal attacks, and accusing the superintendent and school board of being complicit in the propagation of hate.”
Board member Andrew Caplan, who addressed the events during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, said the communications included calls for Superintendent Jill Gildea and school board President Erin Grady to resign.
Caplan said he and two others on the five-member board are Jewish and some of the harshest criticisms were lodged by community members who are also Jewish.
“I’ve been called a lot of things by being a Jew. I have never been called an anti-semite by other Jews, I’ve never been called a bigot by other Jews. The idea that we sit here and don’t care about equity for our students that we don’t care about racism or bigotry is so far from the mark. It’s disappointing that the community feels that way about us,” he said.
Caplan urged the community to teach its children that “hate does not fight hate. It just doesn’t. It just creates more animosity and it is not the way forward.”
Gildea also addressed the board urging educators, parents, students and the community to work together.
“By working and learning together, we can strive to eliminate harassment and violence from our schools and our society one lesson, one day, one training at a time. It is through steady steps and actions that we will flourish,” she said.
Gildea continued, “Our collective call to action is to move beyond our established policy into a more broad-based national partnership that includes and supports the teacher and staff training to ensure that curriculum delivery context, deep understanding while addressing historical events and literature do occur in a way that sensitive topics and expected outcomes are explicitly described and explained, so that there can be no doubt of the significance and egregious nature of inappropriate words and symbols that can result in disciplinary actions.”
She said there must also be restorative opportunities for students who use inappropriate and hate speech and symbols so they are “able to live in the school environment without malice growing inside of them.”
Since a student in Park City High School social studies teacher Josh Goldberg’s class discovered the drawing of a swastika and the N-word on the underside of a desk, Goldberg said people have revealed to him dozens of other incidents that have occurred at the high school as well as Treasure Mountain and Ecker Hill middle schools.
After Goldberg taught about the vandalism in his classroom, “it went viral and students started talking.
“Pretty soon, I was bombarded with incidents that could be construed as hate crimes and hate speech that are right here in the district. ... I personally documented now over 60 incidences of this kind and I cannot be silent any longer. This has become institutionalized. This is part of our culture here,” he said.
Goldberg said he knows of incidents that were brought to the school district “which were not dealt with or swept under the rug,” he said.
“I’ve got children coming to me talking about rape culture, talking about hatred that they’ve endure and sometimes for years and we need to make a major change.”
The school district did not respond to questions regarding Goldberg’s statements about incidents reported to the district that were not addressed.
“The district does track these types of incidences and they are handled through our Safe Schools Policy,” said spokeswoman Lorie Pearce.
Goldberg also addressed previous statements by school officials urging students to report concerns through the SafeUT app, which provides 24/7 access to crisis counseling and school tip reporting for students, parents and guardians.
“We need to have an accurate reporting system. The safety app is not going to be used by students. We need to have a meaningful, a transparent way to deal with this,” he said.
First, the school and community must recognize the problem, Goldberg said. “We’ve got to get our heads around what’s going on. I had no idea it was this bad. No, I don’t think anyone did,” he said.
As educators, tolerance, empathy and kindness need to be embedded in every discipline taught in Park City’s schools, he said.
Educators and administrators need training “so that we can engage with practical strategies to root out the evil that exists not just in this district. People think this is a Park City problem, by no means. This is a statewide problem and this is a nationwide problem. But I fully believe that we can tackle this in a meaningful way and lead the way in this state,” Goldberg said.
According to research by the University of New Hampshire that examined the characteristics of hate crimes involving juveniles, half of the 1,230 cases occurred at school or on school grounds.
Most of the hate offenses perpetrated by juveniles were motivated by race/ethnicity with the vast majority anti-Black crimes, the study found. Crimes perpetrated by juveniles are more likely than adult cases to involve written comments or graffiti, according to early results of the National Hate Crime Investigation Study.
On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, condemned racist graffiti at Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Middle School.
“School officials must be vigilant in protecting students from the rising bigotry we are witnessing nationwide that is targeting every minority community. Students must also be taught about the legacy of racism in our nation that continues to negatively impact their lives,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the association’s communications director.