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Manhattan Beach Schools Grapple With Anti-Semitic Incidents

Feb 19, 2022 11:11AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
A rash of anti-Semitic incidents at Manhattan Beach schools has elicited outrage and has prompted a resolution for swift action by district, city, and police officials.

On Thursday, Mira Costa High School security located a swastika drawn into the grout in a boy’s bathroom on campus. This incident marks the fifth such crime in the past three weeks on the campus.

Furthermore, a swastika was discovered this week on playground equipment at Robinson Elementary School.

The string of incidents, which is being investigated by school officials and the police department, has brought both condemnation and concern among students, parents, and community members.

It also resulted in the rare publication of a joint press release on Friday night from the Manhattan Beach Unified School District, the city of Manhattan Beach, and the Manhattan Beach Police Department promising a united front against acts of hatred.

"These hate incidents are disgusting and will not be tolerated. The school district has reacted quickly but we know we still have far to go. Parents in our community, as well as grandparents, neighbors, and trusted leaders must all work together and some of that work is already underway. While these symbols of hate can be removed from our campuses, the lasting impact on our community cannot,” said Manhattan Beach Unified Board of Trustees President Sally Peel in a statement.

Manhattan Beach Mayor Hildy Stern also lent her support. “I am deeply troubled to see these vile incidents of hate continuing in our community, especially on our school campuses,” said Stern in a statement. “We must stand with our students, our families, the school district, and the Jewish community in condemning these horrifying acts. Now more than ever, we must remain united to support the important work of the school district in its efforts to assure that our students have a safe, supportive learning environment. I will assure you that the city does all that it can to support the district's efforts. Together we will stand united against any form of hate to make our schools and our city a safe place for all.”

Additionally, the Manhattan Beach Police released the following statement: ""The Manhattan Beach Police Department has a firm stance against crimes targeting individuals based on the following but not limited to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. We strive to protect the rights of all individuals against such acts or threats of violence, property damage, harassment, intimidation, or other crimes motivated by hate or bias. Our department is working diligently, and employing reasonably available resources and vigorous law enforcement action to identify hate crime perpetrators. As such, offenders can be faced with criminal charges for vandalism or acts of hate. We strive to ensure our residents and visitors of Manhattan Beach feel safe, welcomed, and know that hate will not be tolerated in our city."

As of Friday, the perpetrators had not been identified, according to school officials.

Anyone with information or a tip is urged to call MBPD’s anonymous tip line at (310) 802-5171. Victims of hate incidents can also seek support through LA vs. Hate. This program includes a network of community agencies that provide prevention, advocacy, and support to victims of incidents of hate. To report hate, call 211.

School Officials Meet with Jewish Leaders

Following the multiple instances of hate graffiti at Mira Costa, school and district officials have been working with local Jewish leaders to understand the best ways to educate and combat against expressions of hatred.

Earlier this week, Mira Costa's Jewish Culture Club - along with Rabbis Yossi Mintz and Shlomo Sirota of the Jewish Community Center -  hosted an opportunity to educate Mira Costa students on hate crimes and anti-Semitism. According to participants, the event was standing room only, with members of multiple Mira Costa clubs and athletic teams in attendance to show support. 

Rabbi Mintz also met with MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes and MBUSD Board President Sally Peel earlier in the week to discuss further opportunities for intervention and education.

Then on Friday, a team of 24 MBUSD leaders, including school board members, the district leadership team, parents, administrators from Mira Costa and MBMS, union representatives, teachers, and support staff participated in an opportunity sponsored by the Museum of Tolerance to provide a supportive learning environment for MBUSD students and campuses.

Nevertheless, at Wednesday night's school board meeting, multiple community members took the opportunity to denounce the vandalism and demand further action.

Mira Costa High School's Jewish Cultural Club co-president Sydney Weisberg spoke at the meeting to say that the incidents had created what she felt to be an "unsafe" environment for herself and her peers.

"Just last week, the Jewish Cultural Club room was targeted with a hateful swastika. Whether this was out of ignorance, apathy, or hostility, it is creating an unsafe environment for myself and my fellow Jewish peers," said Weisberg. "Knowing that the club is being targeted, what's to say Jewish students aren’t next? I want to create an environment at Costa where all Jewish students are welcome to show their Judaism and be proud of identities. Whether this is through education, activism, or advocacy, things need to change."

Weisberg added that when she was at Manhattan Beach Middle School, she would "consistently" hear anti-Semitic jokes and see swastikas etched on desks. "We need education at MBMS as early as 6th grade, because before hostility there is ignorance," she said. "If we can solve ignorance through education about past and present anti-Semitism, we will start to see a cultural shift that will ricochet through Costa."

Manhattan Beach No Stranger to Hate Incidents

Although Manhattan Beach has a core of activists dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the city has experienced its share of hate incidents, notably in the last several years. 

The Clinton family addresses the community at a candlelight vigil in February 2015

In 2015, the Clinton family home in Manhattan Beach was firebombed in what authorities concluded was a hate crime against the African-American family.

A reward fund was created to find the perpetrator, but since the perpetrator was never found, the Clinton family donated the $33,000 to the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation to support inclusion initiatives.

In February 2021, after young Black surfers encountered racial harassment, a group of surfers took to the beach in a "Black Sand Peace Paddle" in support of racial harmony.  

In April 2021, Manhattan Beach families launched an effort to provide education and awareness across town following several anti-Asian hate incidents.

In two separate incidents in June 2021, a group of youngsters pulled down the Pride flag in front of Manhattan Beach City Hall, and a swastika was drawn onto a sidewalk at Mira Costa High School.

In October 2021, American Martyrs Church was vandalized with anti-Catholic graffiti.

And on December 22 and 23, anti-Semitic stickers were found in various locations around Manhattan Beach (and other neighboring towns).

However, the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in the past three weeks has school and community members on heightened alert.

Two anti-Semitic graffiti cases were reported at Mira Costa in late January. Two additional anti-Semitic vandalism graffiti incidents at Mira Costa occurred during the week of February 7, when school staff found swastikas drawn in two different locations during their routine checks of the campus.

The discovery of a fifth occurrence of anti-Semitic graffiti at Mira Costa on Thursday, February 17 - and the additional discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti at Robinson Elementary has added to the concern and outrage. 

District officials have vowed to make a difference moving forward. 

“The well-being of our students and staff is tremendously important to MBUSD. We want to ensure that our school campuses are places where everyone is safe, respected, and supported. There is no room for any type of hate at MBUSD. We will continue to work with the city and community partners to make sure anyone who has taken part in these hate crimes is held accountable,” said MBUSD Superintendent Bowes.

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