Government Police/Fire Schools

Racist Graffiti and Antisemitic Flyers Under Investigation at West Hartford’s Hall High School

Hall High School "H." Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Two separate incidents are currently under investigation at West Hartford’s Hall High School.

By Ronni Newton

Flyers taped to the wall in at least two places at West Hartford’s Hall High School on Thursday contained an antisemitic message, and while Principal Dan Zittoun spoke to students and staff Friday morning and shared his announcement with families stating that “hateful speech has no home here,” some parents are upset that there’s not more outrage about the latest incident.

The flyers taped to the wall Thursday included a black and white image of the flag of Palestine, and the words “From the River To The Sea Palestine Will Be Free!!!” along with the words “ceasefire.”

“I definitely would have liked to have seen a stronger reaction, especially in light of what happened at Sedgwick,” said Doug Shefsky, whose son is a student at Hall. Earlier in the school year, the administration received a complaint from a parent whose son reported that a teacher used a racial slur in the classroom. The incident was investigated, and the teacher has since left the district.

“It makes me feel like the Jewish community is not being fully supported,” said Shefsky, who noted the email Zittoun sent to families Friday had the subject line “Unsupported Flyers,” which did not convey the magnitude of the incident. He said he felt like there was no recognition of the way the words on the flyer – which according to the Anti-Defamation League is an anti-Israel phrase often repeated by Hamas and others who support the destruction of Israel – make members of the Jewish community feel.

Several weeks ago there was an incident at Hall that involved racist graffiti scrawled on a bathroom stall, and following that incident a letter was sent to the Hall community by Zittoun noting that the School Resource Officer was immediately notified and an investigation is underway. That incident included a threat of violence, and in his message to families stating that racist acts will not be tolerated, Zittoun wrote: “While we do not believe there is a credible threat, we will continue to assess the situation and provide additional security as necessary to maintain the safety of all students and staff in the Hall community. If anyone has any information to assist the investigation, please reach out to school administration, the school resource officer, or use the Anonymous Alert app that can be found on the school website.”

Shefsky said that he wants to be sure that there is transparency about both of these incidents, that students are discussing them during their community lessons, and that a thorough investigation is underway.

Roni Rodman is also a Hall parent, and also Jewish. She said that with everything going on in the world, the Jewish community is more fearful than ever. “Is my child safe?” she asked. She wants to be assured that the administration is seriously investigating the latest incident.

“Does the person who put this on the wall know what that means?” Rodman said. Even if they don’t, she said, “your ignorance doesn’t excuse you being antisemitic.”

In 2023, Rodman said, she shouldn’t have to worry about her entire race being annihilated again. Antisemitism “is the oldest form of racism and we live with it every day,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Vicinus told We-Ha.com on Friday that while he is not able to provide details, both incidents are being taken seriously and are being investigated.

“I do not have any new information to share but would like to reiterate that incidents such as these are deeply troubling as they are antithetical to our values and equity vision,” Vicinus said. “Hate has no place in our schools. We take very seriously our responsibility to provide safe and welcoming spaces and as such investigate such occurrences to preserve and protect the sanctity of our learning environment. We stand firm in our work to support all in our community in the accomplishment of our mission to prepare and inspire all students.”

Vicinus urged anyone who continues to have concerns to reach out to him, and that includes anyone who feels like a message is unclear or those who think more needs to be done.

“There’s no tolerance and there’s no room for any form of speech that’s hateful to any group,” Vicinus reiterated. He said that when the investigation is complete, there will not only be consequences for the individuals involved, but there will also be conversation taking place with all students.

“We’re very aware … that we’ve got work to do, that’s ongoing across our schools to try to curb this behavior, to provide positive messaging about our expectations,” he said, and that also includes providing students with education about how they can intervene to prevent this type of behavior.

In the middle schools there are grade-level conversations taking place about character, about values, Vicinus said, and at the high schools there are community lessons taking place with discussion about appropriate ways for people to treat each other and how to stand up for what’s appropriate.

Rodman, who ran for the Board of Education this fall on the A Connecticut Party ticket, said there are “a lot of angry parents right now who cannot believe this is happening,” especially in a town where there is a large Jewish population.

“Ignorance should not be an excuse,” Rodman said, noting that while she is disappointed that she did not get elected, she is even more disappointed that one of the individuals who was elected to the Board of Education, whether purposefully or out of ignorance, “signed a resolution to de-fund Israel.”

The following is the full text of the message Zittoun shared Friday, first as an announcement to students and staff and later in an email to the entire Hall community:

Yesterday, unauthorized flyers were posted across the building that used anti-semitic rhetoric. Hateful speech has no home here.

We recognize that in times of conflict, thoughts and opinions may vary. It is important that we find a way to articulate those thoughts and feelings with respect for self and others. In order for our communication to be effective, we must take steps to ensure that our communication is not negatively impacting members of our community, regardless of intent. 

It is also important that we truly understand the language we are using, rather than just repeating phrases, expressions and thoughts we see or hear on social media and other outlets. 

For us to be a stronger community, we must remember to respect and follow the norms we have established in Community: stay engaged, be okay with discomfort, respect other’s learning journey and probably most importantly, accept non-closure. 

As always, if you need additional support, we would encourage you to access the various resources we have available at school including the school counseling office and pupil services office.

Thank you for your time this morning. 

“We hope anyone with a concern will reach out to us,” Vicinus said.

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