A Middle Schooler Found A "Jews Will Burn" Note In Her Locker

by Samantha Mendoza
Tom Pennington/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A school community in Wilton, Connecticut has been shaken by a string of hate speech incidents this month, and school leaders are now grappling with the aftermath of the worst offense yet. On Thursday, a sixth grade student at Middlebrook Middle School was told "Jews will burn" in a sticky note that was left in her locker. School officials are working with local police to investigate the incident.

According to a letter sent home to parents from Superintendent Kevin Smith, the school held an assembly last week in an effort to educate students about "the incredibly destructive power of hate speech" and encourage students to be "stewards for inclusivity, kindness, and community.”

Smith also encouraged parents to discuss discrimination with their children outside the classroom.

I implore our parents and caregivers to bring these discussions into your homes. Please take a few minutes tonight, and over the next few evenings, to remind your children of the seriousness of this situation, and why we must make it our highest priority. Wilton is a community built on love, tolerance and respect. Working together, recognizing that we all have a role to play in teaching our children, I am confident we will emerge a stronger and better community.

This is the school's third hate speech incident this month. In the previous two incidents, swastikas were drawn on the school's bathroom walls.

This incident continues an alarming trend of a significant rise in hate speech since the 2016 presidential election. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more hate incidents took place in America's schools than anywhere else in the months following the election. In fact, a staggering 2,500 educators who responded to an SPL survey in the days after the election described having witnessed "specific incidents of bigotry and harassment" among students that could "directly traced to election rhetoric."

Schools across the country have been struggling to address this new reality. Earlier this week, a middle school in Massachusetts also reported sighting racist graffiti on the bathroom walls. And in Philadelphia, a number of schools across the state are holding forums or establishing youth leadership groups to address a number of racist incidents that have occured in recent weeks.

"We have seen an increase in hate and bias incidents across the state, including in schools," the state's Human Relations Commission spokesperson told a local NBC affiliate.

The incidents being reported are varied. Often a student is called a racial slur or racist graffiti is found on school property, but other times the threats can be more direct, like incidents of students pulling hijabs off of Muslim students. According to a recent NPR report, many schools have a difficult time addressing these incidents because administrators struggle to both discipline and educate offenders while also attempting to avoid national headlines.

"It is a complicated balance," a Massachusettes superintendent told NPR. "But I do have to step in and make sure that everyone's rights are protected, even a person who has engaged in behavior for which they are punished. There are still rights that they have."

It is exactly this commitment to ensuring equal rights that has led many schools in Massachusetts, and across the country, to adopt programs and workshops that aim to educate students about tolerance, diversity, and respect. One particular program, "A World Of Difference" hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, has reported a five-fold increase in the number of schools calling to request its curriculum.

Given the nationwide rise in hate speech, particularly in schools, throughout the past year, it is becoming increasingly important for educators, parents, and school officials to engage in dialogue with young students about the harmful effects of hate speech and the importance of respecting others. Hopefully, no other middle-school students will have to tolerate harmful words and messages being left for them by their peers.