I spoke at the November 5 meeting of the Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s board meeting. A local rabbi reached out to me and asked me to be there. Nazi graffiti was recently found at the local high school and some families were going to be there. Antisemitism is ungodly and unholy. The response of the Christian community is vital in combating this hate and evil. The school paper wrote this article after the meeting. The morning after, more swastikas were discovered at the school. I’ve reprinted the article from the school paper below.
Superintendent confirms anti-Semitic graffiti Swastikas found in PV bathrooms
Madison Gallo, Rachel Cohen, and Josh DeLuca – November 6, 2018
At the Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education meeting held on Monday, Nov. 5, Superintendent Erik Gundersen addressed the two “isolated incidents” of anti-Semitic defacement that were discovered Sept. 27 and Oct. 18 inside of Pascack Valley High School.
Two swastikas were found etched into bathroom stall partitions. The first, discovered in September, was located in the second floor boys bathroom. The second, found in October, was in the boys bathroom in the cafeteria.
Gundersen said he does not know who first found these images. He added that all custodians and other staff members have been asked to go into bathrooms to see if there is any symbolism to hopefully narrow down who is responsible for it.
Pascack Valley Regional High School District Superintendent Erik Gundersen addresses a parent at the PVRHSD Board of Education meeting on Nov. 5 at Pascack Hills High School. Multiple parents spoke regarding multiple incidents of anti-Semitic defacement at Pascack Valley.
According to Gundersen, after the Anti-Defamation League educated the district years prior on how to combat hate in the school, they [the PVRHSD] knew to immediately shut down the bathroom on the second floor. The police, the PV law enforcement officers Hugh Ames, Mike Niego, and Chip Stalter, and the student resource officer, Mike Camporeale, are also conducting an investigation.
“The reason why it was locked is because we don’t want to subject students to that type of imagery — we don’t want them to see that type of symbolism,” Gundersen said.
Although he did make it clear that he believed the swastikas were drawn by one person, Gundersen declined to comment about any potential leads as to who drew them.
Hillsdale residents and parents of PV students Michelle Silver, Sharon Alessi, Caroline Reiter, and Pastor Marc A. Stuzel of the Christ Lutheran Church in Woodcliff Lake expressed concern regarding the incidents and criticized the district for not informing parents and members of the community during the comments from the public section of the meeting. The parents said they heard about this matter from other parents who were informed by their children.
“The idea of saying nothing and not addressing it, when clearly people know about it, and the kids are talking about it and parents are talking about it, and nothing is being said by the school,” Reiter said. “…[It] unrightfully so gives off the impression that the school tolerates it.”
Administrators did not brief the community about their findings, and, when being interviewed for another Smoke Signal story on Oct. 24, PV Principal Tom DeMaio was asked about the second floor bathroom being closed. He said it was “under repair from some damage that was done.”
“I did not send something out to the community because I did not believe our students were in danger, and we really have to balance the fact that the student body is not in danger based on the evidence that we have along with the fact the person we believe has done this is doing this solely to disrupt the school,” Gundersen said. “They’re looking for people to react in this manner because they take pleasure in seeing people react to a very cowardly act.”
Rather than sending an email to the community, Gundersen explained that PV Vice Principal John Puccio had a discussion with the Student Government Association at Valley relating to this topic.
“Any speculation that the administration was trying to hide this is simply not the case. Our administration had an open conversation with the Student Government Association,” Gundersen said. “But we purposefully lock it because we don’t want to expose students to that symbolism — it’s just inappropriate, it’s hurtful, and it’s insulting.”
These recent incidents are only nearly four years after a white supremacy scandal plagued the school in the May of 2015.
“We’re aware that school is a reflection of society in general as well. Our students develop certain attitudes, language, and behaviors based on what they see from the adults that they look up to,” Gundersen said. “Unfortunately, we have students that will say and do inappropriate things. Now certainly, the appearance of a swastika takes it to the extreme…And we’re doing our best to educate students and make them aware that how incredibly painful that symbol is.”
This was also made public just over a week after the synagogue massacre at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh that killed 11 Jewish people during a religious ceremony on Oct. 27.
“I’m Jewish myself, I have two Jewish daughters who came through Pascack Valley, I know how they would’ve felt,” PVRHSD Board of Education President Jeffrey Steinfeld said. “I think we have to recognize that their concern is genuine, and we need to validate it and we need to address it.”
Stuzel, whose congregation includes students who attend PV, was in attendance after a rabbi reached out to his interfaith group with news of the anti-Semitic incidents. He was “more than willing to come and speak and support” as he believes that it is important for Christians to “say this is not right” and denounce “hateful” acts.
“Anti-Semitism isn’t something that we should only allow the Jewish community to deal with,” Stuzel said. “It’s a wider community issue.”
Silver, Alessi, and Reiter believe that the district should send an email to the community and host a speaker from an organization, such as the ADL, to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism at the school.
In addition to listening to the concerns of the parents, Stuzel, who is an active member of the local interfaith community, would be willing “to come in and help teach,” “lead programs,” and “talk about the faith community response.”
While Steinfeld did suggest that the district might look to incorporate more involvement from faith leaders, he did not go into specifics as to how the district planned to respond.
“I think Erik [Gundersen] and I will probably speak further about this and will have a greater discussion about what else we want to do and how else we want to address this moving forward,” Steinfeld said.