Barbara Howard: Hateful graffiti found recently at Arlington High School, and now 14 students — all males — are accused of vandalizing the inside and the outside of the school, with swastikas and homophobic slurs. It's just the latest example of an uptick in such incidents at schools around New England. WGBH Radio's Maggie Penman is on the line from Arlington High School. Hi, Maggie.
Penman: Hi, Barbara.
Howard: So 14 students, that's a shocking number. We have these kinds of incidents, but that number really stands apart. What kind of reaction are you seeing there on the campus of Arlington High School?
Penman: Yeah, it is a really shocking number of students, and the students that I spoke to today about this were shocked by it. Many of them learned about it for the first time at an assembly that was held here last Wednesday. That was the day that the vandalism was found, and the school cleaned it up pretty quickly, so a number of students didn't even know about it until they got to this assembly that afternoon, and they were really shocked by it. They said that this is a very accepting community, one even described it as a bit of a bubble, and they seem to think that these students were aiming to shock and aiming to get as much attention as possible.
Howard: As you stand there today, what do you see around you?
Penman: So the graffiti was washed away right away. So standing outside of Arlington High School, what I see now is chalk messages that the students have written on the outside of the school.
They say things like “all are welcome here.” There are rainbows, there are peace signs. There is one message that says “love trumps hate.” And this was an initiative by the school, they gave chalk to the students and asked them to write something that would be more welcoming as people came into the school and tell them what this school is really about.
Howard: And the school itself, have they given a response to this?
Penman: Yes. The school put out a joint statement today along with the Arlington Police Department. They said that these actions represent a breach of the peace and harmony we seek to instill as a welcoming, tolerant, and safe community. Whether these students intended to or not, their words and actions are hateful and hurtful, and we must respond appropriately. So they're taking this very seriously here.
Howard: These 14 students, all male, of Arlington High School — what kind of discipline are they facing?
Penman: So all the school will say for now is that the students are facing discipline that's in keeping with the school's code of conduct and values of the community. But from what I've heard from the students I spoke to, it sounds like they have been suspended and may even be expelled.
Howard: Could they face criminal charges?
Penman: Yeah, there's still a police investigation ongoing, so we'll see whether they do face criminal charges as well.
Howard: OK. Thanks, Maggie.
Penman: Thanks, Barbara.
Howard: That's WGBH Radio's Maggie Penman reporting from Arlington High School, where 14 students are accused of vandalizing the school with swastikas and homophobic slurs. It is part of a pattern — according to the Anti-Defamation League, there was a 44 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts over the first three quarters of last year.