District officials worked hurriedly to remove swastikas drawn and etched into playground equipment at Ocean Avenue Elementary School Tuesday morning, just two hours before families were scheduled to arrive for the school’s annual “Welcome Fair.”
Reports of the swastikas surfaced after a district parent took his children to play on the grounds Sunday afternoon, and spotted a number of swastikas, drawn with a paint pen, on the top of the triple slides. One had been partially scuffed off already, he said, while more were clearly visible. The father notified the school’s buildings and grounds crew on Monday, and emailed Northport Village Chief of Police, Chris Hughes.
According to the resident, images of phalluses and a cartoon face, and the acronym “MILF,” could be seen at the top of the triple slide as well. Empty cans of Truly, a hard seltzer, were under the slides, he said.
Not In Our Town (NIOT) Northport, a local chapter of the national anti-hate and anti-bullying organization, wrote a letter (which can be found here) immediately after being notified of the incident. Addressed to Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer, Ocean Avenue Elementary School principal Sabrina Larkin, and all board of education members, the letter was sent Monday evening at 9:40pm and began:
“We formed last summer after swastikas and other graphic images were spray-painted on Dickinson Avenue Elementary School. Today is a very sad day that we find ourselves in the same situation, as similar images have now been etched on the playground at Ocean Avenue. This comes the day before the school is set to host its “Welcome Back” fair for students. The chance that any one of the children – and especially the Jewish children – in our community could potentially be exposed to this symbol of pure hatred is simply unacceptable.”
NIOT leaders reported that, in addition to the paint pen images, a swastika was etched into the top of the middle slide’s surface.
Superintendent Banzer replied shortly before midnight, stating that he was working to take immediate action regarding the image/s. By 7am Tuesday morning, district officials could be seen talking in the Ocean Avenue school parking lot, and a Northport Village police vehicle was spotted leaving the school at approximately 730am.
Chief Hughes told the Journal Tuesday morning that a police report had been filed and an investigation was underway. “We do not have any further information at this moment, but we will be working with the district to review any and all available video footage,” he said.
By 8am, the image of the etched-in swastika had been scraped off by district officials, and the grounds crew were wiping clean from the slides any leftover images around it. Families began trickling onto school property an hour later, for the beginning of the school’s Welcome Fair, where students were invited by the PTA to “play on the playground with new and old friends.”
The recent incident mirrors one that occured in July of last year, when swastikas and racial slurs were found graffitied onto a roof at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School. A group of local parents demanded immediate action and outreach from community leaders and district officials. When they felt the response was insufficient, they formed NIOT Northport, and have since held events in line with their mission, to “begin an ongoing dialogue about, and take actionable steps against, racism and bullying – to address the problem and be part of the solution.”
“The first step is erasing the swastika, and we are so glad that was done swiftly,” said NIOT Northport co-founder, Molly Feeney Wood, upon learning that the images were removed. “The next step, however, is being proactive against future acts of hate. It’s not enough to promote being kind, we must also promote being anti-racist, anti-bias. We are hopeful that the district will join forces with the work of NIOT Northport, rather than just quietly paint over symbols of anti-Semitism and racism when they deface our school buildings. Hate has no place in our town, or in our schools.”
Anyone who may have information related to this matter is asked by Chief Hughes to contact Detective Stephen Kerekes at 631-261-7500.
Update: Superintendent Banzer sent out a district-wide email shortly after this story was published. In it, he informed the community that he was in contact with both Northport Village Police and the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crimes Unit, and would be providing video surveillance footage to the ongoing investigation.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that I have had to reiterate that we have zero tolerance for any hate or discrimination within our district,” he wrote. “I want to be clear that this symbol of antisemitism, or any other intolerant symbol or slur, has no place in our school community or society… I understand that incidents such as this can be extremely disturbing and disheartening. Our staff works hard to provide our students with a welcoming and inclusive environment. As we approach the new school year, we remain committed to making all students and the entire school community feel respected and accepted while in our schools.”