CHICAGO — A swastika was drawn on a Jewish student’s locker at Oscar Mayer Magnet School amid an uptick of bullying at the Lincoln Park school.
Bullying has increased in the last two weeks and focused on “inappropriate and culturally insensitive things such as socioeconomic status, race or religion,” Mayer officials wrote in an letter to parents Wednesday night.
Officials at the CPS school, 2250 N. Clifton Ave., are now working with the Anti-Defamation League to address the incidents, which they called “deplorable” in the letter.
“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 said. “This is deplorable and we denounce it! We have removed these vicious symbols of oppression and genocide.”
The school is “taking the appropriate measures to investigate these incidences,” according to the letter.
One mother who has a student at the school and who is Jewish said she learned of the swastika incident from the school’s letter. Jewish families at the school are “wondering how widespread the issues have been,” she said.
“Parents were worried and upset, saddened and angered. Not at the school, but at where we are as a society and how emboldened adults and even children have become to spread hate and fear at institutions we hold dear,” she said. “Of course, nobody and no place is immune, not even our public schools in a socially conscious city like Chicago.”
The student whose locker was defaced was offered support and the school plans to host activities about cultural sensitivity with students.
“Chicago Public Schools is committed to creating safe and welcoming school environments and the district is taking immediate steps to ensure the student and school community have the support needed to heal following this despicable act,” said Emily Bolton, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman, in a statement. “We are committed to promoting school environments that are welcoming and supportive of all cultures, and hateful incidents will not be tolerated.”
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.”
The Anti-Defamation League will provide the school with resources like lesson plans teaching students how they can be allies, book lists that talk about the history of anti-Semitism and prompts for parents so they can talk with their students at home, Trubowitz said. The goal is for the school to provide “sustainable education” on such topics, she said.
“This is not something that is only happening at this single school,” Trubowitz said. “It is part of a larger pattern that we want schools to be able to address.”
Trubowitz praised Mayer’s officials for being “proactive” in seeking to address the anti-Semitic incident by reaching out to the league and for responding to it in a public way.
“We always encourage schools not to take punitive approaches,” Trubowitz said. “We really want them to think about this as an opportunity to instruct, to engage in conversation.”
According to a Sun-Times report, the school has the wealthiest attendance area in the district, with a $177,947.25 median income.
A Local School Council meeting for Mayer is planned for Thursday night.
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Read the letter sent to parents: