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Alameda Schools Struck Again by Anti-Semitism

Despite the district's "Everyone Belongs Here" campaign, students have found more swastikas and hate speech at Alameda High.

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The Lindsey-Waldorf family thinks Alameda schools Superintendent Sean McPhetridge should resign. - FILE PHOTO BY  D. ROSS CAMERON
  • File photo by D. Ross Cameron
  • The Lindsey-Waldorf family thinks Alameda schools Superintendent Sean McPhetridge should resign.


Ever since Natasha Waldorf received a series of threatening text messages in class from a couple of fellow Alameda High School students in January 2017, attacking her for being Jewish with a cartoon image of Mr. Clean dressed up as a Nazi officer and the words "Mr. Ethnic Cleansing," she said it's hard not to feel unsafe at times. She now gets rattled by things that she might have shrugged off in the past.

That's why when the sophomore noticed a series of swastikas scrawled on a lab table in the back of her AP chemistry class in December, as she was conducting a lab experiment, it gave her an all-too-familiar sense of dread. In the past, she might have ignored the graffiti, but the swastika was next to the words "Stop the Plague," drawn on the table, and nearby it were other swastikas and the words "Mein Fuhrer" written three times. She knew she had to speak up.

She also wishes that they were the only swastikas she found this year, but they weren't. In mid-November, she stumbled across one that was scrawled at the center of a mural promoting the school's sports teams — in a hallway of the school's foreign language arts building's bottom floor that she rarely visits. In that case, it was about an inch high and right at eye level — and on the yellow H of the high school's acronym, AHS. It looked like it'd been there for a while, she said.

"Both times, I had like a sinking feeling in my stomach, and thought like, 'Oh, here we go again,'" she said. "And I felt a sense of dread. And I thought, not again. Oh G-d, I have to deal with the school administration again, and is there even a point in reporting this? And nothing ever happens other than it getting erased. Is anything going to be really done by the school to deal with it?"

The two sites where Natasha found swastikas in November and December were among a total of at least six sites where swastikas were discovered on the Alameda High campus this school year, said Natasha's parents, Mel Waldorf and Jessica Lindsey. Swastikas have been found on classroom desks and a lab table, a mural, a cardboard box in a classroom, and on a paper airplane tossed at another person, according to the school district. And the incidents of hate are all the more troubling because they came on the heels of a disturbing surge in anti-Semitic acts that have occurred in Alameda in the past year, in the schools and throughout the city. In late September, a swastika was discovered on the slide of a playground of the closed Lum Elementary school; on August 17, Temple Israel of Alameda was vandalized; three days later, fliers with swastikas and hate speech were found on Sherman Street.

Last school year, swastikas also were found all over a desk with the words "Jews are evil" in one of Natasha's classrooms, while other swastikas have been discovered on a dumpster outside of Otis Elementary and on the photo of a Jewish student on a bulletin board at Encinal Junior High. And at Otis Elementary, a Jewish fourth-grader also received inflammatory anti-Semitic comments and a death threat on a Google document that students used to comment on each other's essays. The threats describe throwing the Jewish girl's dead body in a hole and Hitler would "piss on her Jewish ass," according to a timeline of anti-Semitic incidents in the past year compiled by the Lindsey-Waldorf family in a formal complaint that the family filed in August against the district over its handling of anti-Semitism in schools.

"I was hoping that they would use last year's incidents as a lesson to better handle future ones," Natasha said. "But kids don't know drawing these types of symbols is wrong. So, kids just keep doing these things with terrible anti-Semitic messages just for fun. They think it's funny. And if no adults or other people above them step in to tell them it's not OK, these kids are going to grow up thinking that that's OK. And what's going to stop the next generation of people spreading hate toward Jews?"

The Lindsey-Waldorf family says they filed their complaint after eight months of inaction on the issue and repeated appeals to high school and district leaders. They also enlisted the help of the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, which have written the district letters to assert that it has not fulfilled its legal obligation to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment under Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act. The family is calling for changes in school policy so that administrators immediately intervene when anti-Semitic incidents occur and take the incidents seriously.

Last school year, after Natasha received a flurry of anonymous texts of offensive images of Nazis, was called a "kike," and was told that Hitler's biggest mistake was not killing her family, the family said the school administration did not force a German exchange student, who instigated the texts, to apologize to Natasha or help both parties talk out their conflict. The school also did not fill out a bullying incident report when the bigoted acts occurred. In fact, the offending student was not even moved from Natasha's class, and she had to endure sitting near him the rest of the school year.

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