ANDOVER -- Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, Superintendent of Schools Sheldon Berman and Police Chief Patrick Keefe report that the Town of Andover is responding strongly after three swastikas were found drawn on a classroom desk at Andover High School on Tuesday afternoon, hours before the Jewish festival of Hanukkah was set to begin.
This is the third time in recent months that a swastika has been found at Andover High School, and this incident occurred in the classroom of a Jewish teacher, escalating the incident to a hate crime. The town is responding with a unified show of force.
"The moment we write these acts of intolerance and hatred off as mere ignorance we are admitting that we must live with hate in our community," Town Manager Flanagan said. "Our community is much stronger than that. We are a vibrant, tolerant, welcoming community, and we will not allow hate speech or hate crimes to pervade in our schools, or anywhere else."
The Town of Andover has a relationship with the New England Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and will be relying on it for guidance and for its vast resources and expertise in responding to hate speech and hate crimes. The Andover Public Schools will also conduct faculty and staff training with the ADL.
Additionally, the Andover Public Schools will shortly be reaching out to local clergy, including rabbis, priests, ministers, and other members of the area religious and civic community to lead a public forum at Andover High School sometime early in the New Year.
"We must respond to the situation that presents itself to us, and we cannot ignore hatred and intolerance because they are uncomfortable topics of conversation. We must educate ourselves and our children," Superintendent Berman said. "We seek to find those responsible for these acts, but we also know that we must educate our entire community if we hope to prevent these acts from reoccurring."
The Andover Police Department is investigating these incidents as well as the Andover Public Schools. Those responsible, if and when they are found, could face felony hate crime charges.
"We are actively and aggressively investigating these incidents at Andover High School, and the men and women of the Andover Police Department seek to become active participants in the learning and healing process with the schools, and our community," Chief Keefe said. "Crime prevention happens in the community, and we are dedicated to preventing these terrible acts from happening again."
Andover High School also reminds students of its core values and beliefs, which read in part:
•All students will act with respect, integrity, and compassion
•All students will demonstrate responsibility for their actions
•All students will cultivate their awareness of contributing to the common good
"It had been my hope that we would be able to stop this behavior which, I believe, involves a small group of individuals. However, since this behavior continues to victimize members of our community and has created a pattern of hostility within our school, I feel that I need to shine a bright light on the situation and involve our entire school community so that we can stop this and all hate speech from occurring on campus," said Philip Conrad, Andover High School Principal. "There is a need to recommit ourselves to providing a safe, supportive, and equitable learning environment for all."
Incidentally, the Andover School Committee recently adopted a statement of tolerance. It states in part that the School Committee does "formally and unequivocally oppose bigotry, racism, violence, and hate, wherever such may occur and in whatever form such may take" and shall "maintain two-way communication with citizens of the community."
If anyone has any information on these incidents, they are encouraged to call Andover High School at 978-247-5500 or the Andover Police Department at 978-475-0411.