Edgebrook principal gives update on school measures following anti-Semitic graffiti; trips to Holocaust Museum planned as part of ‘teachable moment’
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Edgebrook School principal Camille Unger gave an update on repeated instances of anti-Semitic graffiti, school measures in addressing behavioral issues, and how the entire series of unfortunate events could be used as a “teachable moment” for the student body.
Unger said at a special Dec. 21 meeting of the Edgebrook Local School Council that the school follows CPS rules and guidelines when investigating incidents of biased-based language and discipline options the school has in the Student Code of Conduct.
School officials sent messages to parents and the community about swastikas discovered in a bathroom, and racial slurs being used and written on school grounds and other incidents.
In light of the events, parents organized a “Shine Bright Against Hate” walk around the school, 6525 N. Hiawatha Ave., before the annual “Luminary Walk” on Dec. 20 to a large community outpouring.
Unger also said at the LSC meeting, which was also broadcast via Google Meet, that the Illinois Holocaust Museum would offer free admission to students in third through eighth grades and that the school would pay for bus service. “The dates have been set, the permission slips are coming,” she said.
“We denounce the incidents. We do not stand for hate. We do not stand for racism. We don’t want to engage in that behavior,” Unger said. She said the community was notified recently about the incidents, but that the first graffiti incident occurred on Nov. 9.
“While we don’t use those words and do not show that symbol here at Edgebrook, we want all of you to have those discussions with all of your students at home,” Unger said. The school sent out letters about “news of repeated anti-Semitic graffiti (swastikas) in our middle school hall bathroom and a classroom and two instances of bias-based language/racial slurs written and spoken around race (n***** and b*****) in just this past week.”
She said that it was difficult to isolate which students were initially responsible because it was “a significant passing period” so we did a “circle with all of the students in 6th grade.” Following a series of repeated graffiti the school was able to “isolate it down to about 20 or so students who may have been in the bathroom at that time,” Unger said.
Because the school is dealing with younger people, Unger said that initial conversations surrounded around biased-based language used against protected groups of people before the conversations turned to various disciplinary measures the school can use following repeated incidents.
“When it came down to the student code of conduct I was extremely explicit with your students around the consequences and what biased-based actions are, and what those said consequence can be available to us under different circumstances,” she said.
“Parents don’t like it when I talk about out-of-school suspension because it usually comes with a novel that the child has to read and an essay they have to write. If we are at that level of consequences then we don’t want to repeat this (behavior),” Unger said.
“I explained to the students that that symbol (swastika) represents a credible threat of violence. It is a symbol, and I said to the students, it is a symbol of death. It has no other meaning to the people of Jewish faith. Or lots of other people,” Unger said. She said thousands of years ago it was a sign of peace but the Nazis have turned it into a sign of evil.
“We talked about that 6 million people lost their lives under that symbol and what does that mean and what does that say when we are putting that in our bathroom,” she said.
“We are still in the investigation stage so we are still having lots conversations with students,” Unger said. But she said that even when the school determines who is responsible she won’t be able to share that information due to privacy.
One member of the LSC said that parents understand that the school gets its marching orders from CPS and what it can and can’t communicate.
“But there must be a rule. If a kid comes home and tells you a scary story, parents do need to know (what is happening). Parents don’t need names, and they don’t need to just believe everything their kids say. … but it’s much easier to talk to your kids when you’ve heard a factual statement, and if the big CPS is saying that you cannot say anything about certain events then that is not an acceptable answer,” one LSC member said.
A student council representative said that “It’s not a good look for us and we are disgusted by it and we are trying to heal.”
One parent said that the school should have taken a more proactive approach when the first incident was reported in order to start a conversation and discussions with students, parents and teachers earlier than let it snowball into the current situation.
“In reflecting on that, it would definitely be something that we would change moving forward,” Unger said.