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Nov 16, 2011 2:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Parents Blast East Hampton School Board Over Handling of Graffiti Incident

Nov 22, 2011 2:35 PM

Tempers were flaring and tensions were running high at a meeting of the East Hampton School Board on November 15, as parents blasted the board and school administrators and demanded to know why their sons had been singled out for questioning over an act of vandalism in the boys’ locker room that school officials have called a “hate crime.”

Parents were outraged over the manner in which East Hampton High School administrators handled the incident involving a photo of the high school boys’ soccer team that was defaced with Hitler-like features, swastikas and sexual pictures.

According to interim Superintendent Richard Burns, the incident occurred in the boys’ locker room sometime between Sunday afternoon, November 6 and Monday morning, November 7, when a recently installed photo of the county championship team was defaced with offensive graffiti.

“You can construe that it was motivated by ethnic hate,” said Mr. Burns. “We have zero tolerance for any type of acts of prejudice or bullying. There’s no way that’s happening on my watch.”

At Tuesday night’s meeting, which lasted almost three hours, Mary Lownes, began by reading a letter that she said reflected the sentiments of many parents of the East Hampton Varsity Volleyball Team.

“The most troubling aspect of this week is that the leaders of our high school, our administrators, failed to protect our sons.”

Ms. Lownes said the volleyball players were targeted for questioning despite their being no evidence to indicate that the boys were responsible for the incident, other than that some of them had used the locker room to change. Questions involved why a more extensive investigation wasn’t launched, why others who had access to the building weren’t questioned, why an emergency athletic committee meeting had not been called to discuss the event, why the school attorney was not contacted to discuss procedure and why parents had not been notified, even as late as Monday, to discuss a matter that involved their sons, many of whom are minors.

“The school is supposed to protect children,” Ms. Lownes said. “I live in America, where you are innocent until proven guilty. I would like to know what evidence you have against our sons—and what you are going to do to clear their names.”

Also egregious, parents said, was that the school district sent out a press release Tuesday morning, before any evidence had emerged, potentially linking their sons to a “hate crime,” that could damage their futures and college careers.

Parents were also livid that coaches questioning their sons had threatened to refuse to allow them to play in a championship game of their own on Monday night.

Parent Mike King asked why his son, who is an African-American, was questioned twice. “My son is the only black person on the team and you questioned him twice, I could say that’s racist.”

Soccer coach Rich King said that when he found a swastika emblazoned on the photo of his own face, “I was very emotional.” He said since he has a rapport with Mr. King’s son, he asked him if he knew anything about the incident.

Mr. Burns called a press conference Tuesday at noon to explain what had happened, with an eye toward being upfront with parents and students. “I want to make sure we’re honest and transparent about what happened,” he said.

But parents felt issuing a press release, when very few, if any are issued by the district, shone an unfair light on their boys.

School Board president Dr. Laura Anker-Grossman, who said she had lost family members in the Holocaust, said while she understood parents’ concerns, it was critical to remember the seriousness and magnitude of the incident. “This was an important teaching moment,” she said. “There is prejudice in our district, on Long Island, and across the United States.”

Mr. Burns said the questioning was for informational, not disciplinary, reasons. “None of the kids were accused,” he said. “Once we learned that no one had seen anything, we moved on,” he said. At 1 p.m. on Monday the students were cleared and allowed to play their game that evening.

Parents felt others at the school could have gotten in to the locker room and their sons were unfairly targeted.

School Board member Alison Anderson said she thought the district issuing a press release without notifying the board first was troublesome. Mr. Burns said he was trying to show strong leadership in handling a serious incident.

High School Principal Adam Fine said while the matter has been turned over to town police, an internal investigation continues. Moving forward, the focus will be on education to prevent such an incident from happening again, he said.

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Lets all get a grip here. I know your sense of self importance is large but come on. Some kids were questioned, one parents says it racist another talks about the holacaust another wants the school attorney involved. Some stupid prank. Move on and try educating the kids because we all know for what you spend in EH your test scores and rankings are very poor.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Nov 16, 11 2:43 PM
1 member liked this comment
Questioning is part of an investigation, not an accusation. I am sure that we could all agree that this matter should certainly be investigated. What would be said about the school if they did not interview the team that is supposedly being singled out? The school is 100% in questioning every person that might potentially have information about the incident. This happens in police investigations all the time. Just because someone asks a question does not mean that they are guilty. Relax and ...more
By S'hamptonNative (84), Southampton on Nov 16, 11 4:28 PM
good point - move on and stop sending kids the message that they are picked on by the school every time the parents don't like a school decision. Heck these kids will learn soon enough out in the real world that things are not easy - how will they cope in two or three years when a boss or co worker does something they don't like ??
Don't think in two years they will be sitting around with their friends saying "hey remember that time the school picked on us and asked us if we saw who did that ...more
By harrisw (27), sh on Nov 16, 11 5:17 PM
2 members liked this comment
I agree with the above. Stupid prank. I also blame the parents of those who did it for not teaching them right from wrong. The real world will teach them soon enough if they dont figure it out for themselves. They live in a global world now and not many will tolerate that behavior.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Nov 16, 11 8:07 PM
2 members liked this comment
Yes the school is supposed to protect children. That being said, if the VB team had access, it was right to question them. For the protection of the entire student body. Questioning someone is not an accusation. I seriously doubt this incident will have any affect on the futures of the VB team members unless its discovered that they did have something to do with it. These parents need to relax, they were questioned by the coach not the police. At anyrate, the culprits will be found out, nothing ...more
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Nov 17, 11 3:40 PM
If you're Jewish it's not just a "stupid prank". Anti Semitism......alive and well ! I'm sure if the " N " word or something offensive towards Latin people happened to be what was written, things would be much different.
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Nov 22, 11 10:19 PM