Education board, first selectman respond to anti-Semitic note

During its Oct. 26 meeting, the Wilton Board of Education addressed recent anti-Semitic incidents at Middlebrook School, including the discovery of a sticky note with the message “Jews will burn” on a Jewish sixth-grader's locker earlier that day.

Superintendent Kevin Smith said he was “horrified” to hear about the “particularly repugnant” note left on the student's locker.

“We are actively investigating and are doing everything in our power to find the perpetrator,” he said.

“Once we find the individual responsible, we will be prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law and exercising the full scope of our ability to suspend and expel.”

The note found on Oct. 26 is the second anti-Semitic incident reported at the middle school this month. The first involved the discovery of a hand-drawn swastika on a boys bathroom wall on Oct. 5.

Wilton is “a wonderfully inclusive, caring community filled with individuals committed to serving and raising others up,” said Smith, “and we cannot cannot allow these acts to define who we are.”

“We have to stand together against the threats of incidents like these becoming normalized and defend against being desensitized to acts of hate and violence,” he said.

“The appearance of swastikas and the creation of this note serve as a call to action for all of us.”

Smith said he and First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice — who was also present at the board's Oct. 26 meeting — have started planning to meet with local clergy and town officials to “coordinate a broader community response.”

According to Vanderslice, they will be working together on “an action-oriented approach to address the things that have been happening in the community.”

“We’re here to work together to make our community a better place for every resident. We want every child, every parent and every resident to feel safe and included — whether in the school or anywhere else in our community,” said Vanderslice.

“The symbols, the language — they’re all unacceptable, and that message needs to be said loud and clear.”

Although Wilton is “generally a respectful, understanding, generous community, focused on service to others,” said Vanderslice, “there has been an increase in meanness and inappropriate actions in town.”

“We need to acknowledge and address it head on, and I am happy to work with Dr. Smith, the clergy and other leaders to do so,” she said.

Board of Education Chair Christine Finkelstein said she was “shocked, disgusted and saddened” to hear about the incidents at Middlebrook.

“I wish to convey in the strongest possible terms that we must have zero tolerance for the symbols and language of hate,” she said.

“It sickens me that tonight in Wilton, there are students who feel that they aren’t valued as members of our school community and who are afraid to go to school — but I think it’s important to also note that while yes, this did happen to one student today, it really happened to the entire school community.”

Board member Laura Schwemm said community members “should not run from what has happened.”

“We should stop and confront these incidents because we are better than hate,” she said. “We have more than that to offer our children.”

Lory Rothstein, a board member and Jewish mother of three, said she picked up her youngest daughter from Wilton High School on Thursday and felt the need to explain to her what happened at Middlebrook “because she could easily have been the girl who received this note on her locker today.”

“It was not an easy conversation, but I encouraged her to seek the adults in the building that she trusts, said Rothstein.

“I encourage other parents to have that same conversation with their children and let them know that there are caring adults in the buildings, so if they should feel uncomfortable for any reason, they should seek out those adults.”

Parent meeting

A parent meeting will be held in the Middlebrook School auditorium Friday, Oct. 27, at 9 a.m. to address the recent anti-Semitic incidents.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman from Temple B’nai Chaim will “be making every effort to join us,” said Smith, as will Vanderslice and Steve Ginsburg from the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League.