Updated, 5:44 p.m., Nov. 2: Headline and photo changed.
NORWALK, Conn. – A swastika and the “N word” were found recently in a Brien McMahon High School computer lab.
While, in response, Principal Scott Hurwitz plans several activities to encourage more understanding between Brien McMahon students and is working with the Anti-Defamation League to develop more, Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams is asking why her organization was not consulted and why it took weeks for Hurwitz to let the community know.
“We would also like to know how Mr. Hurwitz proposes to change the culture of the school to embrace everyone,” Penn-Williams wrote in a Wednesday letter to Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski. “This is not the first incident at McMahon. As the NAACP President, I have heard many complaints from Hispanic and African Americans about incidents of similar nature occurring at the school and nothing being done by Mr. Hurwitz or him not adequately addressing the issues.”
‘Troubling and disappointing’
Hurwitz, in an undated letter to the community, said that a half-dollar-sized swastika had been drawn on the seat of the chair, and then “last week… someone rearranged the letters on the keyboard in the same computer lab to spell the N-word.” Norwalk Police were called and the incidents documented, because, “We hope that we can identify the student who is responsible so we can help him or her to understand the hurt caused to individuals and the damage done to our community.”
There’s no evidence that the incidents are connected, according to Hurwitz. They are “both troubling and disappointing (and) have a caused us to look a little more closely at our climate and prompted us to take steps to make a community even stronger.”
“The teachers who teach in the classroom where the incident occurred will conduct a restorative circles with their students to discuss the incidence and to address student concerns,” he explained, adding that NPS is consulting with Anti-Defamation League representatives on upcoming programs. “An upcoming house lesson will address the power that words and symbols have toward an individual and community,” and on Nov. 20 “schoolwide assemblies will be held to recognize and celebrate students to demonstrate excellence in a variety of areas including character, work ethic, and academics.”
Finally, some of the activities held during the annual Climate Day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be aimed at “creating a positive climate, respecting others and their differences, and making connections and finding similarities.”
The incidents are “troubling” but “not typical” and “do not reflect the daily experiences of students at Brien McMahon,” he said.
‘You could have also considered…’
Penn-Williams in her Wednesday letter said a parent gave her the communication from Hurwitz. She wrote:
“Why wasn’t the NAACP contacted? We also have access to programs throughout the state that support organizations who experience discrimination and biases. You could have also considered the National Urban League, American Civil Liberties Union, or the Education Office for Civil Rights to come in and assist the Anti-Defamation League. One of the organizations in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League would have provided a tremendous amount of support to the school and the entire district. We would like you to know that the NAACP is available and happy to support the Anti-Defamation League in working with the school and district. How soon will the Anti-Defamation League be in the school to assist Mr. Hurwitz? How will the activities and results be communicated to the parents and community?”
She had learned that the swastika was found on Oct. 7, the day before Yom Kippur, she said, asking, “Why is Mr. Hurwitz sending a letter now to the community and not right after the incident? This letter looks as though it just happened. There seems to be no sense of urgency or understanding on Mr. Hurwitz’s part.”
She also asked, “Who did the investigation since there is no longer a Human Relations Officer in the district? What is the process for investigating this type of behavior? What were the findings? As you know, federal laws prohibits this type of discrimination and harassment. This type of activity seriously traumatizes children who experience or witness these acts and a zero tolerance policy must be implemented across our schools.”
“We agree wholeheartedly that all our schools should be inclusive and welcoming to all children. Words, symbols and all expressions of hate are simply unacceptable,” Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams wrote Thursday to NancyOnNorwalk. “In a school the size of McMahon, gathering accurate, actionable information can take time, especially when it involves students. Mr. Hurwitz communicated once he was in a position to do so. The timing of his message in no way indicates a lack of urgency.”
“While there are many worthwhile resources and partners to choose from, the ADL has programs such as No Place for Hate that we believe will complement and enhance what the school already plans to offer. A team from McMahon will observe this program in action at another school and determine if it makes sense to schedule for Norwalk.
“As Mr. Hurwitz noted, while these incidents may not be typical for the school, they are troubling and will be addressed.”