Ridgefield High School reacts to racist graffiti

Ridgefield High School students are thinking about creative ways to deal with the emotions surrounding racist graffiti that was discovered on school grounds this week.

“Because we have such an active student body they’re coming up with some ideas on how they’d like to address that in creative ways,” Principal Stacey Gross told The Press Thursday, March 30.

The principal sent an email to students, parents, and faculty on Wednesday, March 29, to notify them of the incident while emphasizing that it is not reflective of RHS values, and encourage a dialogue.

“I know that you understand that these acts, and similar ones towards any group, attempt to weaken our conscience, poison our spirit, and destroy the freedom of all of us. They are actions intended to demean and diminish members of our community, the people that we live side by side with every day of the school year,” read Gross’s letter.

An investigation into who is responsible and more details on when it happened is still taking place.

Gross said one of graffiti was a swastika, and the other displayed a racist sentiment.

“As a reminder, the swastika was a symbol of superiority and power used by Adolf Hitler to legitimize the Holocaust – a genocidal event that resulted in the death of 11 million people, including 6 million people of Jewish ancestry,” wrote Gross.

Student reaction

She said that the students are working with the student life coordinator and some club leaders to come up with a plan of action, and how to express how they feel about what happened through creative outlets.

They will present their plans to her next week.

“I think the reaction... you know it’s sad and upsetting to all of us, but I think it was an appropriate reaction for the kids to have,” she said.

“I think they understood the real problem with this kind of hate speech towards anyone.”

In the days that followed, Gross received many emails from students and parents alike.

“They’re all really upset, I think they don’t feel it’s reflective of who we are as a school and as a culture and as group,” she said, “they’re embarrassed and hurt.”

But some of the feedback has been about looking towards solutions, banding together against hate, and having important conversations.

“I think students really appreciated the fact that I wrote that message to them,” said Gross.

“Then they had an opportunity to speak with their teachers in class about what had happened.”

Not the first time

This is not the first time racist graffiti appears on school property.

Gross recalls a similar incident three or four years ago, which put in motion the school’s collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League and their NAMES Day program.

She said that the school is focusing on continuing to build partnerships with local agencies and congregations to help address and prevent these types of situations.

In a statement to parents, Superintendent Karen Baldwin said "saddened and angered" by the incident. 

"I continue to seek the support of parents, students, community leaders, and our local clergy to join in ending this behavior," she said. "The district is in close communication with the Ridgefield Police Department and this incident is under investigation. I have been in communication with leaders of our local clergy as well as our municipal leaders, and we continue to partner to send strong and aligned messages to the community we serve."

"The community of Ridgefield is bound by our commitment to the future of our young people. The Ridgefield Public Schools reaffirms a climate of acceptance, safety, and inclusion for all of our members and I value your support and contributions in this effort."

Jewish community

Ridgefield’s Jewish community has also responded.

The Chabad Jewish Center of Ridgefield launched a Mezuzah campaign to make sure that every Jewish home in the region has a mezuzah—a sacred handwritten parchment scroll that is mounted on the doorpost.

According to Jewish belief, the Mezuzah protects individuals from harm and hate.

The center is offering free Mezuzahs to those who can’t afford them, and replacing any that aren’t Kosher.

Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray wrote a letter published in The Press about the importance of teaching the holocaust.

“Reading and studying the diaries of the Holocaust can bring us closer to the hearts and souls that were lost. Those brave enough to defy the Nazis and write down the daily atrocities for future generations,” she wrote.

“Risking one’s life to write something you’re not even sure will survive you. The least we can do is read them and remember.”