This week, Nazi words or symbols were found drawn in five Montgomery County schools, according to the school district. At a Thursday town hall with the school superintendent, students and parents voiced frustration with a lack of transparent communication from Montgomery County Public Schools about how students are disciplined for these incidents when caught.
The incidents and reaction come as new data shows antisemitic incidents rose 100% across Maryland and 261% across Montgomery County over 2022, according to a report released this week from the Anti-Defamation League.
Families of students at Burning Tree Elementary received a community letter from their principal on Wednesday informing them that the word “Nazi” had been found scrawled in pen on an interior hallway wall of the school.
Families at Wyngate Elementary and Walt Whitman High School received similar letters regarding drawings of Nazi symbols found on both school campuses. Two additional schools—Silver Creek Middle and Julius West Middle—also experienced antisemitic incidents in the week since March 20, according to MCPS spokesperson Jessica Baxter.
At Wyngate, the symbols were found “on items used by students in one of the classrooms,” according to Principal Nichola Wallen’s letter. At Whitman, two students found a hate symbol carved into a wood stool in the science lab, according to Principal Robert Dodd’s letter.
“Yet again,” Dodd wrote, “I have to write and let our community know about another instance of behavior that is antisemitic. […] [H]aving to write another letter is very distressing for me and profoundly upsetting for our Jewish community. While it feels like a gut punch to find another example of antisemitic hate, we remain undeterred and will forge ahead with our efforts.”
In December, the school’s entrance sign was defaced with antisemitic graffiti reading “Jews not welcome here” and several staff received anonymous antisemitic emails, prompting a schoolwide student walkout and nighttime vigils. That same month, two students on the school’s speech and debate team were reported to have used antisemitic language on a trip, including making threats against specific Jewish students.
In February of this year, MCPS received nine reports of antisemitic incidents in schools over the course of a week. Four separate incidents at Northwood High School in Silver Spring prompted the school to shut down all its outdoor facilities indefinitely in early March.
On Thursday evening, over 300 residents gathered at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac for the second of two Q&A-style town halls with Superintendent Monifa McKnight about combatting antisemitism in schools, facilitated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC). County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-Large) and Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1) also attended.
Bethesda resident Leigh Marcus went to Thursday night’s event as the parent of students at both Whitman and Burning Tree. She described the discussion as “emotionally intense” and said multiple students shared vulnerably about continuing to be the target of antisemitic jokes and remarks from classmates.
“As Jewish parents, we’re afraid,” she said in an interview. “Our kids aren’t feeling safe in school, and we’re getting restless. I think we’d feel like something was being done if there was a level of transparency from MCPS.”
JCRC associate director Guila Siegel said the students at the town hall described daily antisemitic microaggressions—pennies being thrown at them, Holocaust jokes and heil Hitler salutes—as being “a seamless, organic part of their school experience.”
A student from John F. Kennedy High described being called “Jew boy” in the school hallways every single day, according to Sara Winkelman, director of education programs and services for the JCRC, who also attended the event.
A fifth grader told attendees about his kippahbeing ripped off his head by a classmate, Winkelman said. His mother kept him home from school for two weeks afterward due to fears for his safety, she said. She mentioned that many of the students who spoke attend Julius West Middle.
MCPS handouts distributed at the town hall show that the district is hosting over a dozen upcoming learning opportunities on the topic of cultural awareness for both students and staff.
Currently, students in grades 6 through 9 and 11 are required to cover curriculum materials on Judaism, antisemitism and the Holocaust. The district is currently in the process of updating social studies lessons for grades 4, 5 and 7 to introduce similar topics at a younger age.
Siegel and Winkelman said parents at the town hall expressed frustration at their students being “slammed by failed restorative justice” and called for more transparent communication from the school district regarding student discipline in instances of hate bias.
McKnight told attendees that her team would be meeting after the town hall to debrief and discuss next steps.
Baxter told MoCo360 in an email that the actions taken by school administration differ depending on “the severity of the incident, age of the student and repetition of behavior.”
According to the MCPS code of conduct, disciplinary actions can range from classroom-based responses like time-outs, seat changes and teacher-student conferences all the way up to detention and expulsion.
Marcus said parents want to see more communication from schools regarding the specific disciplinary measures taken when a student is found responsible for a hate bias incident.
“We see these emails, we see these meetings, but we can’t see that there are consequences,” she said. “And that’s really infuriating after four months. I feel helpless at this point.”