Swastika incident under police investigation at Riverhead Middle School

The Riverhead Middle School administration opened an investigation with the Riverhead Police Department into a student who drew a swastika on a blackboard earlier this week.

This is the second antisemitic incident to occur at the middle school this month — the first being the discovery of a small swastika symbol on a piece of artwork on Nov. 17.

In a recent letter to the community, Cheryl Pedisich, interim superintendent of the Riverhead Central School District, said the student is being disciplined and the district has spoken to their parents.

“We continue our commitment to condemning this behavior and emphasize that any form of antisemitic or discriminatory symbols, speech or actions are reprehensible and unacceptable in our schools and community,” said Ms. Pedisich in the letter. “Unfortunately, these acts are not just limited to the Riverhead community, as incidents of this nature are occurring across Long Island and throughout the country at elevated rates.”

This is not the first time the school district has addressed this particular act of hate. Back in September, at the start of the school year, district officials opened an investigation after drawings of swastikas were found on desks at Riverhead High School.

Following the incident, Riverhead High School principal Sean O’Hara reached out to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center for “resources and support.”

Ms. Pedisich stressed the importance of a “school-home partnership” and urged parents to have conversations with their children about the seriousness of these discriminatory acts.

She went on to inform the public on the steps the school district is taking to spread awareness of this issue. On Dec. 4, the district-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee will be having its first meeting and will begin to introduce programs, events and lessons to all grade levels that promote tolerance and acceptance.

Additionally, Marion Lazan, a Holocaust survivor, will be visiting Riverhead Middle School on Thursday, Jan. 11, Ms. Pedisich said. As a child, Ms. Lazan was interned at the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. She plans on discussing her personal experiences with the swastika symbol, antisemitism and bigotry with students.

“This collaboration is crucial to ensure students fully understand the damage these messages of antisemitism cause and to provide students with the support they need to combat hate and bigotry,” Ms. Pedisich said. “As important, please emphasize to your children that there will be serious consequences for those that do engage in this behavior from the school district, and depending on the act, law enforcement.”