Port superintendent expresses outrage for latest graffiti found at middle schools

Port superintendent expresses outrage for latest graffiti found at middle schools
Paul D. Schreiber High School. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

By Taylor Herzlich

Michael Hynes, Port Washington school district superintendent, revealed during a board of education meeting on Tuesday that an additional swastika was found in a bathroom stall in Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School on Monday.

The announcement follows an initial instance of swastika graffiti on a bathroom stall reported by a student, which Hynes addressed on Friday and Monday in letters to the community

The school district immediately opened an investigation with the Port Washington Police Department, according to Port Washington Board of Education President Adam Smith.

The Port Washington Police Department said detectives are investigating the incident, with cooperation from the school district.

“The PWPD takes all bias incidents and alleged hate crimes seriously and we continue to work together with the Port Washington Schools to ensure a safe learning environment for our children,” the Port Washington Police Department stated in a release.

Police ask anyone with information about the incident to call (516) 883-0500 or email [email protected].

Despite hot-topic items on the board meeting agenda, including a districtwide Pupil Personnel Services audit and operations expenditures for the 2024-25 school year, most of the community members in attendance commented on the antisemitic incidents and board members began the meeting by discussing antisemitism. 

“We are incredibly disheartened about the appearance of swastikas in the Weber Middle School,” said Smith. “This investigation remains ongoing, but I am optimistic that the perpetrators will soon be identified.”

This is just the latest reported antisemitic incident at the Port Washington Union Free School District. 

A photo of three alleged Paul D. Schreiber High School students doing the Nazi salute circulated on social media in October 2023 and garnered global attention after being reposted on the nonprofit StopAntisemitism’s social media accounts.

In the photo, all three teens can be seen saluting, with one student carrying a shovel and another student wearing a gas mask. 

This photo spread on social media just one week after five 14-year-old Schreiber high school students were reportedly involved in a bias incident consisting of racist, antisemitic and bullying conversations culminating in a Port Washington Police Department investigation. 

And in April 2021, two swastikas were spray-painted on the exterior of John Philip Sousa Elementary School, according to a letter written by Hynes. 

Hynes expressed his “outrage” at the latest in a string of antisemitic incidents at Port Washington schools.

“I’ll try to control my emotions as much as I can,” said Hynes, “but this is something that we do take not only seriously, but we put in a lot of resources to make sure to the best of our ability that it doesn’t happen again.”  

One of these resources is a yearslong partnership with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, a relationship that dates back to the 2021 swastika spray-painting incident. 

Adam Ruttner is a board member of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center and the grandson of four Holocaust survivors.

Ruttner is raising two children in Port Washington, and while he said he “would not want to live anywhere else,” he choked up while speaking to board members about how “mortified” and “personally hurt” he was following the news of swastika graffiti in Weber Middle School. 

Hynes said he is actively trying to bring interfaith initiatives to the district, including a conversation taking place on Jan. 31 with author David Brooks about his book “How to Know a Person.”

Hynes said he personally invited clergy members from varying local places of worship to attend the meeting. 

The superintendent claimed that the district “doubled” the amount of antisemitic programming available from last year to this year. 

But board members’ mention of a district-wide zero-tolerance policy was met with backlash.

“I’d love to hear about what zero tolerance means … because it was clear that a lot of this was tolerated,” said Orly Dotan, a parent of two Schreiber high school students.

Referring to the antisemitic incidents at the district in October 2023, Dotan said, “Kids were returned into the classrooms. Everyone knows who they [the perpetrators] were. Nothing was said. Nothing was done.” 

One community member implored board members to release the PPS audit to the public, and after a brief discussion, board members agreed to do so. 

The board of education commissioned the PPS audit in an attempt to slowly start auditing each department in the district, according to Smith. 

An unnamed consultant held several on-site meetings with staff, parents, students and administrators, conducted anonymous surveys and met with small focus groups. 

The auditor then recommended professional development efforts, improved communication between PPS employees and student family members and the addition of a third assistant director to the department, according to Stephanie Allen, the assistant superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services. 

The recommended course of action would require $130,000 plus benefits to be added to the budget for a new assistant director, as well as $10,000 for five additional consultation days with the auditor to help implement these changes. 

Board members had selected Generation Ready as the auditor, yet the members’ opinions on the audit were mixed. 

Board member Rachel Gilliar said that she “found this report very disappointing,” full of “passive voice” and “generalizations.”

Gilliar said that as a result, “I’m a little skeptical of paying [the auditor] more money to come fix inconsistencies [during the proposed five consultation days].” 

Smith disagreed, saying, “I was actually very pleased with the survey results overall.”

However, he pushed back on the need for a new assistant director, questioning whether the PPS department could start working on much-needed improvements before hiring a new assistant director this year. 

Board members also discussed parents’ dissatisfaction with the handling of student IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs, in a district with more than 1,000 special education students, according to Allen.

Kathleen Manuel, the assistant superintendent of business, discussed operations expenditures at the meeting ahead of the 2024-25 budget vote set for May 21.

Some of the new equipment expenditures proposed by Manuel include a new electric mower, custodial equipment and a maintenance vehicle to replace an old, out-of-use vehicle.

Other mentioned expenses include roof repairs, additional security measures like alarms, cameras and a new security vehicle, leased digital equipment and a significant growth in the English Language Learner department, which caters to 583 students.

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