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A swastika found on a bathroom stall at Monument Mountain Regional High School sparks an investigation

Front of Monument Mountain High School

Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington has experienced two instances of hate speech in recent days. A swastika was found penned in a bathroom stall Thursday along with antisemitic language in a boys bathroom.

GREAT BARRINGTON — A swastika was found penned in a bathroom stall Thursday along with antisemitic language in a boys bathroom at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

It was the second case of hate speech affecting the school community within recent days. Last week, a “racist and body shaming screenshot” was found on Snapchat, according to Monument Mountain Principal Kristina Farina.

“I am sorry to report that today, we had another hateful image shared in school,” Farina wrote in an email to the school community. “This image was then photographed and shared.”

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After it was discovered, it was also photographed by a school staff member and then removed by a custodian.

“We are in the process of investigating and reviewing digital footage outside of the bathroom,” Farina’s email continued. “In schools around the county and country, these incidents are all too common. We condemn these actions and we will not tolerate it.”

A student representative to the regional School Committee told the committee about the swastika at Thursday’s meeting under the “roses and thorns” section of the agenda, where it was discussed.

On Friday morning, Farina called Great Barrington police to begin an investigation.

Superintendent Peter Dillon sent out a similar message Friday to the school community. He said the district is working in partnership with faith-based and community organizations, including rabbis from Hevreh of Southern Berkshire.

After a similar incident was reported last month at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, every student was interviewed. But Farina said no such process would be undertaken in the Monument incident.

“I think that would be a tremendous amount of time investment for administration that would be unlikely to lead us to any conclusive evidence,” Farina said.

Berkshire District Attorney Timothy Shugrue issued a statement through a spokesperson Friday afternoon. In it he referred to three recent incidents in three different school districts in the Berkshires within the last month. He did not list the incidents, but said they “entailed anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA+, specifically transphobic, remarks and graffiti.”

”These are hate crimes,” Shugrue said in the statement. “I — along with my second Assistant, Chief of the Child Abuse Unit, Chief of the Juvenile Unit and Director of Community Engagement — will be meeting with the New England Chapter of the Ant-Defemination League and will subsequently be reaching out to members of these targeted communities. Actions like these are offensive and hurtful. We won’t tolerate individuals creating an atmosphere of intimidation and exclusion in our schools or our Berkshire Community.”

Both Farina and Dillon spoke of the dual challenge of investigating the two incidents and trying to educate the community.

In fact, Monument Mountain has been engaged in that process in consultation with the Stoke Collective, which is about to release a report on its two years of work at the school.

Two weeks ago, there was an anti-racist assembly, largely led by students at the school. Both of these incidents followed that event.

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“One of the things that I personally have been reflective about is how important it is for people in the community to hear from the school leader directly when incidents occur, that are hateful and cause harm to members of our community.” Farina said.

She said one immediate step she will take is to form a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging parents group. A student group already exists.

She shared the email she intended to send parents Friday afternoon.

“One might argue there has been an increase in behavior as a reaction to our assemblies, but I prefer to see this differently,” she wrote. “We asked students to be more aware of racism, bigotry, bias and prejudice. More importantly, we told them when they see such behaviors, they should take action.”

Farina told The Eagle, “I think it’s the proactive and prosocial work that we do with students that in the long run is going to be the best hope we have combating hatred and prejudice and discrimination in our communities.”

Jane Kaufman is Community Voices Editor at The Berkshire Eagle. She can be reached at jkaufman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6125.

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