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School probes swastika graffiti

Posted: November 12, 2008 10:32 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 4:59 a.m.
 
Two Saugus High School sophomores returned to their gym locker Wednesday to find a swastika emblazoned on it, and school officials are investigating.

"This is unacceptable," said Tim Davis, father of the twin boys. "This goes beyond bullying."

Davis, who is Jewish, said the swastika was painted on the locker and that a piece of gum was jammed in the lock. He said a letter was also part of the vandalism, but he didn't know its contents.

This incident is his family's first brush with discrimination in their 25 years living in the Santa Clarita Valley, Davis said.

School officials launched an investigation and will work with the sheriff's resource officer assigned to Saugus High, said Greg Lee, William S. Hart Union High School District diversity coordinator.

However, there were more questions Wednesday than answers, he said.

"I am not sure yet whether the graffiti is on a locker or on the wall," Lee said.

"Finding the perpetrators is more important. If the vandalism was done in a public area then everyone becomes the victim," he said.

"If something has taken place that puts any student in harm's way, or if anyone speaks in a derogatory fashion about color, creed or nationality we will deal with those people," said Bill Bolde, Saugus High School principal. "We will investigate it,"

With 2,550 students on campus, Bolde said the investigation might take a little time.

"We act as quickly and expediently as we can," he said. "It's important at our school and at every school that we provide an academic setting that is safe for all kids. Action, words or insinuations that there will be campus unrest is not something we will tolerate."

Jewish discrimination is not common in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to Rabbi Choni Marozov of the Chabad of SCV.

"I'm not sure if these teenagers realize the symbol behind what they are doing. Six million men, women and children were killed because of that symbol," Marozov said.

Sheriff's resource officers often investigate school crimes independently of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, Lt. Brenda Cambra said. The Saugus High School officer "will interview any of the kids involved and file reports on the incident."

The swastika is deemed vandalism, and if this was a hate crime the degree of punishment increases, Cambra said. The Los Angeles County District Attorney determines whether an incident was committed against someone because he or she belongs to a social group.

That would elevate the offense to a hate crime, she said.

The Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District was rocked Oct. 20 when 14-year-old Vasquez High School freshman Jeremiah Lasater committed suicide after years of enduring bullying at school.

In the weeks following his son's suicide, Jeff Lasater took action by creating Project 51, a bullying hotline designed to help people cope with bullying and hold schools accountable for combating bullies.

Starting Nov. 18 people can call the Project 51 hotline at (866) 721-7385.
Supporters of Project 51 developed a school accountability program that will be presented to the Acton-Agua Dulce School District board at its regular board meeting today, Lasater said.

The Project 51 accountability program ensures that action is taken on behalf of the bullied student and that a clear resolution is found. Assembly Bill 86, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sept. 30, is designed to empower school administration to suspend students for bullying classmates, but will not take effect until Jan. 1. Until then, no legislation is in place to take such action.

Said the rabbi: "When something like that does occur, the best thing to do is for the school and the community to put an end to it before it gets out of hand."

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