After a swastika was found on a bathroom wall at Henry Clay High School, Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk said Tuesday that his student task force will take on racism, discrimination and bias.
Zachariah Sippy, who is Jewish, told the Herald-Leader that it is not the first anti-Semitic act that he has witnessed at Henry Clay. A swastika was the emblem of the anti-Semitic German Nazi party.
“Most of this is not rooted in malice, but rather in ignorance. But that does not make it any less painful and hateful,” Sippy said in a Facebook post.
“Jokes about the size of my nose and the greed and power of Jewish people are commonplace,” Sippy said. “Swastikas can be found all over the school drawn either on desks or in notebooks (mostly as jokes) as if they have no meaning.”
“Hate should have no place in our schools; it destroys the learning environment.”
Sippy said he had on Monday night notified Henry Clay principal Paul Little, who thanked him for bringing the issue to his attention. Sippy suggested offering education on the Holocaust at Henry Clay.
In an email, Little said to Sippy: “It saddens me that such ignorance is so widespread. We will definitely look into this. I believe we need to do a better job of cultivating awareness and acceptance at Henry Clay.”
Sippy’s father is the rabbi at Temple Adath Israel.
Sippy is a student leader on the school’s decision-making council and vice president of the Young Democrats.
He is asking that Caulk and the school board form a task force chaired by a student to investigate hate crimes and hateful speech in schools.
“I propose a task force 60 percent comprised of students with the other 40 percent community leaders ... I hope that Jewish, Muslim, Refugee and Immigrant students will all be represented,” said Sippy. He said he thinks the anti-Semitic climate at the school has grown worse since the presidential election of Donald Trump.
Caulk said “we have zero tolerance for acts of hatred in our schools and absolutely support having a courageous conversation to look at this issue systemically.”
Caulk said at its very first meeting, his Superintendent’s Student Voice Team identified racism, discrimination and bias as one of the top issues they want to address.
“Hate is a learned behavior and our students are taking the lead on moving our entire community forward,” Caulk said.
Sippy is a member of the Superintendent’s Student Voice Team, which had its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday. He told Caulk about the swastika.
“We discussed strategies on how to address and engage the community in a broader conversation,” Caulk said. “I stand in complete agreement with him that we should seize this as a teachable moment for our school community and the community-at-large and I’m proud of our Superintendent’s Student Voice Team for starting this work even before this incident.”
“We are stronger together and we will not let hate divide us,” Caulk said.