NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday, Superintendent Sean Gallagher and other city leaders met privately with the Human Rights Commission this week to discuss how to move forward after an anti-Semitic incident at Newburyport High School and how to work to improve school culture.
School officials are investigating reported anti-Semitic acts involving a Newburyport High School student who did a Nazi salute while standing near two Jewish students during the school’s annual Ivy Day event on May 29.
An NHS junior told The Daily News the student also altered lyrics to “All Hail to Our Alma Mater,” the school’s official song, from “All hail to the glorious future” to “All hail to the glorious Fuhrer,” a reference to Adolf Hitler.
“We certainly take every incident that occurs very seriously,” Holaday told the newspaper Friday morning. “We felt it was important to bring our team together to have a conversation about what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going and what else we can do to continue to improve the school culture.”
The meeting included members of the Human Rights Commission, middle and high school administrators, special education teachers, City Councilors, representatives from Newburyport Youth Services, School Resource Officer Megan Tierney and Rabbi Benjamin Resnick of Congregation Ahavas Achim.
The group reviewed what they know of the incident and the response by the school district, said Holaday, who added they also talked about what they believe is happening in terms of school culture and what they can do to address it. NHS Principal Andrew Wulf formed a “school climate group” several months ago to complete monthly surveys for feedback on whether students feel NHS has an accepting, safe environment for everyone.
The group also discussed the possibility of implementing a program used in Beverly Public Schools to work with students on the restorative justice process and discipline after an incident such as the one that occurred in Newburyport, the mayor said.
“We think it’s really important ... if the perpetrator and victim are willing to sit down and have a conversation,” Holaday said. “It has a much greater impact. We talked about that model, whether we think we could adopt a program like that.”
In addition, she noted, the school district contacted the Anti-Defamation League, which has a program for schools to teach about discrimination. The mayor said Newburyport has been on the waiting list for this program for a year, adding Rupert A. Nock Middle School Principal Lisa Furlong is continuing to contact the ADL for training in the Newburyport Public Schools.
Holaday said that at a recent Anti-Defamation League breakfast she attended, the group discussed a “pretty disturbing increase” in anti-Semitic incidents across the state.
In addition, she said, the school district is looking at expanding its parent speaker series to include topics focused on school culture, discrimination and anti-Semitism. School leaders also discussed hosting open houses at each school to have parents meet in the auditorium to learn about “school climate expectations,” Holaday said.
“We know some of these incidents … sometimes it’s just being stupid and not thinking about the action that they’re doing or saying,” Holaday said. “We have to make sure that we’re reaching out to all aspects of the community to make sure we’re getting the right message out and what we believe in. We want every child to feel safe and protected.”
The Human Rights Commission and School Committee will continue to discuss the incident and how to address it into the next school year.
Although this initial meeting was private, Holaday said, community members, parents and students are welcome to call the mayor’s office.
For previous stories on the incident, visit https://www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/parent-lodges-nd-report-of-anti-semitism/article_93443049-4321-569b-ad11-e3be131ec99d.html
To contact the mayor’s office, call 978-465-4413. To contact the Human Rights Commission, call 978-462-4411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.