The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, an elite New York private school in the Bronx, has come under fire for failing to adequately discuss the anti-Semitic connotations of the swastika after students in a middle-school class drew the symbol.
Administrators barely touched the Nazi connotations of the notorious symbol and did not mention the Holocaust during a 15-minute assembly held after sixth-graders were found drawing the symbol, the New York Post reported.
School administrators counter that they quickly approached the student who drew the symbol and took action to make sure students know they must not display it under any circumstances.
“(Fieldston) has zero tolerance for hate speech,” head of school Damian J. Fernandez and board of trustees chair Caryn Seidman Becker wrote in a letter to the school community. “To be clear: a swastika is hate speech and, as such, its depiction will not be tolerated in our school.”
Fieldston is located in Riverdale, a neighborhood with a large Jewish population.
The Post said several sixth-graders were discovered drawing swastikas in their art class late in November. A notebook was also discovered on the middle-school campus with “Hitler Rocks” written across the front, the paper reported.
School officials suggested in their letter to the community that the notebook incident was still under investigation.
Administrators responded to the incidents by assembling the grade to discuss the swastika. Parents said that 12 minutes of the 15-minute presentation the teachers delivered focused on the swastika’s history as a sacred symbol in India, while only briefly touching on the fact that it was adopted by the Nazis.
Following backlash from parents, the school’s administrators announced plans to hold an assembly reinforcing the seriousness of displaying the swastika.
The school also this week announced plans to improve its Holocaust education program. It announced that it would partner with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to “expand and deepen” students’ understanding of Nazi Germany.
This is not the first time Fieldston has found itself in hot water this year. The Jewish Week reports that earlier in 2015 the school sorted 8-year-olds into their respective racial groups to promote racial pride and advocate for interracial understanding. While parents and students were divided on the lesson, some believed it was segregationist.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern.