This story was updated on December 15, 2023 with a joint response from South Orange-Maplewood Acting Supt. of Schools Dr. Kevin Gilbert and Board of Education President Kaitlin Wittleder.
On December 14, the Maplewood Township Committee issued a statement condemning antisemitic graffiti that contained an explicit, violent threat that was found in a bathroom stall at Columbia High School earlier this week.
The statement reads in part: “The Maplewood Township Committee unequivocally condemns this antisemitic act – it is vile and dangerous, as it directly threatens the safety of students in our schools. This is unacceptable and intolerable behavior. Hate has no home in Maplewood, we will continue to call out bigotry and antisemitism wherever and whenever.”
See the full statement below.
The statement also asserts that police only became aware of the incident on Thursday, December 14 at 1:10 p.m.: “Apparently, school officials became aware of this earlier in the week and reported it to high school parents by way of a letter,” the TC statement reported. “Maplewood Police is investigating this in collaboration with school officials.”
On December 15, South Orange-Maplewood Acting Supt. of Schools Dr. Kevin Gilbert and Board of Education President Kaitlin Wittleder issued a joint statement condemning the graffiti. The statement refers to district policies regarding HIB [Harassment Intimidation & Bullying], Affirmative Action and Hate Crimes and Bias-Related Acts. See the full statement attached below.
Per SOMSD Policy 8465: HATE CRIMES AND BIAS-RELATED ACTS, “The Superintendent or designee shall promptly notify the local police department and the bias investigation officer for the county prosecutor’s office when a bias crime or bias related act has been committed or is about to be committed in accordance with N.J.A.C. 6A:16-6.3(e)1.”
Village Green is following up with the South Orange-Maplewood School District, Maplewood TC and PD with questions about how and when the incident was reported to police and what steps are being taken to ensure safety and security at CHS in light of the incident. Read our updates here.
Read CHS Principal Frank Sanchez’s emails to parents and students below.
This story will be updated.
Maplewood Township Response to Antisemitic Graffiti at Columbia High School
At 1:10 pm this afternoon, Maplewood Police received information about antisemitic graffiti located in a bathroom stall inside Columbia High School. Apparently, school officials became aware of this earlier in the week and reported it to high school parents by way of a letter. Maplewood Police is investigating this in collaboration with school officials.
The Maplewood Township Committee unequivocally condemns this antisemitic act – it is vile and dangerous, as it directly threatens the safety of students in our schools. This is unacceptable and intolerable behavior.
Hate has no home in Maplewood, we will continue to call out bigotry and antisemitism wherever and whenever.
— Maplewood Township Committee and Maplewood Police Department
Letter from Acting Supt. of School Dr. Kevin Gilbert and Board of Education President Kaitlin Wittleder:
From CHS Principal Frank Sanchez on December 14, 2023 at 9:38 a.m.:
Earlier this week we found an antisemitic threat on a stall in the girls bathroom on the ground floor in the D wing. Although no student noticed it (instead they reported the Free Palestine graffiti that was above it), I felt this needed to be addressed with all students.
Therefore, I sent them all an email earlier this morning describing my disappointment. You can read it below.
I know we are in fraught times and some of our most socially conscious students don’t feel comfortable even debating the current war in Israel, but this graffiti is not about a ceasefire or the establishment of a two-state solution. It is not a criticism of the current Netanyahu government. Instead, it is just hate speech and we can’t have that here at Columbia.
In my email to students, I shared a GoogleForm that will allow them to report any hate speech they see or hear. I am also continuing my meetings with local rabbis and concerned parents to brainstorm events and trainings that can ensure we have a safe and healthy school climate. I also appreciate the support from Dr. Gilbert and our colleagues in central office who have been incredibly supportive.
Finally, we have spoken with our counselors so they can be available for any student who needs their support. Our teachers are also aware, and I know our students are fortunate to have them as their trusted adults to help them process these challenging issues.
Email Sent to Students December 14, 2023:
Dear CHS Students
As the usually proud principal of Columbia High School, I am deeply disappointed about an incident that happened earlier this week. It was reported to me that in one of our girls’ bathrooms, a violent, antisemitic threat was scratched in the paint. Once it was discovered, we documented the hateful message and had it removed immediately.
At Columbia, we believe in providing a safe and inclusive space for every student. Acts of antisemitism, or any form of hatred, directly contradict the principles upon which our school is built. As a community that prides itself on fostering respect, diversity, and understanding, we must collectively stand against any form of discrimination or prejudice
I understand that many students feel passionate about the current war in the Middle East and it is okay to share differences in geopolitical views. I realize that we can do a better job in providing spaces for students to discuss this matter; however, we can never tolerate discrimination and hateful speech.
In response to this incident, we are taking immediate action to address the situation. Our school administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the matter, and appropriate disciplinary measures will be taken against those responsible for the graffiti.
Additionally, I urge each and every one of you to be vigilant and report any further antisemitic slurs or any other acts of hate speech. I have created this GoogleForm for you to report anything you see in our bathrooms or on any desks.
If any student feels affected by these incidents and needs support, our counseling services are available to provide assistance. We are committed to ensuring that every student feels valued and protected.
Let us remember that we are a diverse and compassionate community that thrives on mutual respect. It is through our collective efforts that we can overcome such challenges and emerge stronger as a school community.
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I am confident that together, we can create a learning environment that upholds the values of inclusivity, understanding, and respect.