LINCOLN PARK — Parents, administrators and Chicago Public Schools officials gathered at Oscar Mayer Magnet School in Lincoln Park Thursday after a swastika was drawn on a Jewish student’s locker.
The meeting came less than 24 hours after parents received a letter from school officials telling them that racist bullying was on the rise at the school, 2250 N. Clifton Ave., and that they had contacted the Anti-Defamation League to help address the problem.
“Most recently, a swastika, a longstanding symbol of the worst kind of hate, was marked in the locker of a Jewish student along with other derogatory symbols,” the letter to parents said. “This is deplorable and we denounce it! We have removed these vicious symbols of oppression and genocide.”
Thursday night, Oscar Mayer Principal Danielle Drayton said the school “had taken all necessary steps to ensure Mayer remains a school for everyone” and hopes they can use the incident as a teaching moment.
A parent of the Jewish student, who wishes to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, said he coaches basketball and believes kids he once coached are responsible for leaving the hateful message on the locker.
“This is not an anti-Semitic issue. This is a hate issue,” he said. “They targeted him because he was Jewish, but it could have just as well been an African-American child, an Asian-American child, doesn’t matter. This is about our community as a whole. It’s not about just Jewish kids.”
No matter what happens next, the parent said it is important to use the event as a “moment to come together and spread love.”
“We are living in very strange times,” he said. “It’s gotta stop. And the only way to stop the hate is to stand up and fight. And the way we fight is to come together as a community.”
Other Jewish parents in attendance shared their own personal concerns and fears following the incident. They also asked not to be named “due to the current climate” in the country.
“My kids are afraid to leave the house right now,” one parent said. “They are worried they could be next, and they don’t want to come to school.”
The concerned parent wanted to know what steps the school and administrators would take to provide psychological support, specifically to Jewish students.
Many of the parents questioned why they were not immediately contacted following the swastika incident, which happened Monday. Some of them learned about the incident through media reports, which they said was unacceptable.
But school administrators said they were in a difficult position. They wanted to first make sure the incident was isolated and had not happened on other students’ lockers. They stressed it was important to be decisive and intentional.
The incident is part of a “national trend” of anti-Semitic events, said Lara Trubowitz, the education director at the Anti-Defamation League Midwest. Nationally, the United States saw a 94 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in preschool through high school between 2016 and 2017, she said.
“We will be working with [Mayer] to try to establish some sort of comprehensive plan or training for education,” Trubowitz said. “They’re really thinking about using this as an opportunity to not only instruct the student but the family members, administrators about the importance of addressing hate rhetoric, hate speech.”
Some parents asked if Principal Drayton would need to “jump through hoops” with CPS once she had an anti-bullying plan in place. CPS officials said that wouldn’t be the case.
“The CPS of today is not the CPS of yesterday,” said CPS Network Chief William Klee. “We are here as a team. As we collaborate together, it eliminates a lot of the red tape.”
Klee praised Oscar Mayer administrators for “taking the time to formulate an appropriate plan.”
“I’m proud the principal had the foresight to get a team together, contact the family first, and work intentionally,” Klee said.
Parents talked for more than an hour when the meeting opened for public comment Thursday night.
“Instead of having a 13th seminar on tolerance and bullying, I suggest one day next week, all the students and staff wear the Star of David armbands like they did in Pittsburgh,” he said, referring to the athletes, students and others in Pittsburgh who honored the Tree Of Life synagogue shooting victims. “If they do that and walk in unison, they will remember that. That will resonate.”
Ultimately, administrators said that they want to hear from students before planning an action in response.
“This is what we used to call a magical Mayer moment,” the parent of the student who was victimized said. “We as parents and as a whole community need to start bombarding them with kindness and love. They need to see it from us on a regular basis.”
Read the letter sent to parents: