The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board approved the creation of a human relations task force March 12 in response to recent acts of anti-Semitism involving students from Newport Harbor High School, said Adriana Angulo, a school district spokeswoman.
“The Task Force will help determine the best course of action to help educate not only our students but also our parents, teachers and the broader community as we work together to fight all forms of hate,” Angulo wrote in an email on May 13 to The Panther.
Just days after students at an off-campus party gave Nazi salutes and built a swastika out of red party cups, fliers depicting swastikas and anti-Semitic symbols were found posted on the Newport Harbor High School campus March 11.
The fliers, described as “Nazi posters” were put up late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, according to The New York Times. Police discovered about 10 fliers.
Last week, Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss spoke to some students at the high school to educate them about the historic significance associated with the symbol.
Schloss, the stepsister of diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank, spoke at Chapman March 6 about anti-Semitic rhetoric and symbolism.
“Not everyone in Germany knew what was going on (during the Holocaust),” Schloss said to an audience of about 1,000 in Memorial Hall. “But there were obviously cowards that didn’t speak up.”
The Newport-Mesa School District’s belief statement says its goal is to “teach the whole child,” emphasizing cultural sensitivity, and “respect for people, property and the environment.”
Although the details surrounding the task force have yet to be determined, it’s anticipated to include community representatives, Angulo wrote.
After the swastika incident the weekend of March 1, Schloss’ speech and the anti-Semitic fliers, some local community members are taking action. A petition on Change.org created by Gabriela Hernandez calls for Newport-Mesa Unified School Board members to listen to “students (who) tell a story that has been occurring for over 25 years,” that includes prior acts of “xenophobia and white supremacy.”
As of March 14, 585 people had signed the petition.
Jeffrey Koerber, a professor who specializes in Holocaust history at Chapman, wrote in an email to The Panther March 12 that the solution for “hate-filled ideologies” is education.
“It is deeply disturbing, especially coming so soon after the reckless actions of students in the same area,” Koerber wrote. “I commend school officials and the police for taking the incident seriously.”
Marilyn Harran – the director of Chapman’s Barry and Phyllis Rodgers Center of Holocaust Education – echoed Koerber, citing the Holocaust Art and Writing Contest that took place March 8 as an example of those educational efforts.
“Such anti-Semitic and racist efforts are not new to Orange County,” Harran wrote in a March 12 email to The Panther. The contest, which drew prose, poetry, art and film submissions from 234 middle and high schools nationwide, aimed to educate students about the Holocaust.
“These are the students who will be taking their work and their message back to their schools and sharing it so that no such incident as has occurred recently will ever be tolerated,” Harran wrote. “I hope next year Newport Harbor and the other schools which had students involved in the incident will choose to participate.”
An informational meeting held by the Newport-Mesa School Board is scheduled for March 27 at 6:30 p.m. The location and specific information about the meeting has not yet been released.