A Richmond family says an anti-semitism problem at their daughter’s high school hasn’t been addressed adequately after she found another set of swastikas etched on a desk.
Aliyah Morgan, in Grade 9 at Steveston-London Secondary, sat at a new desk for a group activity in late January and saw two swastikas scratched into the wood.
It’s not clear whether the person who carved the swastikas was targeting Aliyah since multiple classes use the room, but her mother, Dina Morgan, questions why a student thought to carve them in the first place.
“Why is that your first doodle? When did it become Nazi symbolism?” Morgan said. “When there’s a Nazi problem in the school.”
Aliyah already experienced two previous incidents of anti-semitic bullying at SLSS, where one student suggested she take a “gas shower,” and another student told her his people “have names, not numbers.”
She also found a swastika carved into her choir music stand. Again, it’s not known who drew it or whether it explicitly targeted her.
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Dina doesn’t think the school has done enough to address the issue. She wanted the school to bring in a guest speaker to educate students about the Holocaust and anti-semitism, but that hasn’t happened. She also alleges SLSS failed to support her daughter as she changed classrooms to be separated from the students who made the offensive remarks.
Aliyah was switched to a different science class with a different teacher. This new cohort had learned the class material in a different order than her previous class, and as a result, Aliyah fell behind. With little support to catch up, Dina questioned why her daughter was moved instead of the boys.
“I wanted my kid away from those kids, period,” Morgan said. “They took it upon themselves to move Aliyah instead of those boys.”
Richmond School District spokesperson David Sadler told Daily Hive that the school administration recorded that Aliyah’s mother requested she be moved to another class.
“When a student feels unsafe for any reason, measures are taken to ensure that the student feels safe at school,” Sadler said. “Each situation is different and requires a tailored intervention plan based on context, [the] intensity of the event in question, outcomes of a restorative process, etc.”
Dina’s wish that the school bring in an outside speaker to explain the significance of the Holocaust and why drawing swastikas is unacceptable was also not fulfilled. One of Aliyah’s teachers wrote an email to the principal, shutting down the idea of a guest speaker.
“I am not against inviting people from our community to speak to kids, but I do believe the greatest change by far comes from parents and then teachers,” the social studies teacher wrote.
The school administration “actively explored” bringing in a guest speaker, Sadler said. But the newly implemented quarterly system and COVID-19 health and safety protocols have made coordinating it difficult.
“Due to these challenges, the school has not been able to coordinate a guest speaker to this point,” Sadler said. “School staff and administration continue to meet and communicate with both the parent and student on a regular basis to provide support and address any and all concerns.”
Reports of anti-semitism in Canadian schools are increasing, according to B’nai Brith’s most recent audit of anti-semitic incidents. Years 2015 to 2018, the most recent for which data is available, have each set new records for the number of school-based anti-semitic incidents reported.
According to the audit, online and in-person anti-semitic harassment has “skyrocketed” in Canada’s primary and secondary schools. Jewish students have been mocked for their background and had peers deny or distort the reality of the Holocaust, the WWII genocide that killed more than 11 million Jews and other minorities.
Alumni of Steveston London wrote to Daily Hive, saying they also witnessed incidents of anti-semitic bullying while they were at the school.
Kevin Slater, who graduated in 2012, came to SLSS from Richmond Jewish Day School. He recounted being bullied for being Jewish, including one incident in Grade 8 when a classmate allegedly tried to light his hair on fire.
He also recalled students taping pennies and other coins to his high school yearbooks.
“I am not here to shame my high school, as they did a lot of things to help people who were bullied and such,” Slater wrote. “But it’s more to share the experience that it cycles down through each generation.”
Sadler told Daily Hive that racism and discrimination are not tolerated at any schools in Richmond. The board is taking steps to ensure an inclusive environment, such as forming a Diversity and Anti-Racism Working Group and establishing a Cultural Diversity Working Group.
Teachers also prioritize social and emotional learning, and all new employees are trained to be sensitive to human rights issues and all types of discrimination, harassment, and bullying, Sadler said.
As for the Morgan family, Dina said she wants the school to take the anti-semitism seriously so her daughter can go to school without finding symbols of hate on her desk or music stand.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s aimed at you or not,” Dina said. “It evokes a visceral attempt in your fight or flight reaction. Because the place that you thought was safe is not.”