An incident where middle school students drew swastikas on an Ohio school bus has prompted an investigation by the school district, according to a school district official.
Several Westerville middle school students drew swastikas on school bus windows Jan. 12, an incident that came to light when a parent noticed Facebook posts between two district bus drivers describing the incident a day later. The parent, Sharon Shai, told the Columbus Jewish News she was disappointed with the way the drivers addressed the problem and relayed her concerns to John Kellogg, Westerville City School District superintendent, in a Jan. 13 letter.
“The bus driver seemed to find it humorous,” she wrote in the letter which she sent to the CJN. “Her comment on Facebook was off-handed and in response to another bus driver posting about his kids drawing” on the windows. The bus driver … said she spoke to the kids and that ‘kids will be kids,’ that they’ve moved on. This is not good enough.”
Greg Viebranz, executive director of communications & family engagement, for the school district, told the CJN via email that an investigation was underway into not only the students’ actions, but the bus drivers’ reactions to it.
“Acts of antisemitism have no place in our district and will not be tolerated,” he said. “District officials are considering two aspects of the current matter. One is personnel-related and the other is student-related.”
As the investigation is ongoing, Viebranz declined to provide much detail on the investigation.
“What I can share, however, is that our human resources department is considering both the driver’s professional and personal responses to the incident,” he said. “We opened the investigation as soon as possible after becoming aware of it.”
“Regarding the student aspect of this incident, transportation department officials, along with school staff, continue working to identify any students who actively participated,” Viebranz said. “Anyone found responsible will receive appropriate school disciplinary consequences according to our student code of conduct.”
Shai told the CJN this is not the first such situation in the Westerville schools, citing an April 2021 incident where seniors at Westerville South High School allegedly taped a swastika on a jacket during class and posted it to social media.
In the letter to Kellogg, Shai said the punishment for the 2021 action was insufficient.
“Their punishment for this hate speech was the same as seniors that sprayed silly string in the parking lot – for hate speech and creating a hostile environment in school,” he wrote.
Shai said that, in addition to contacting Kellogg, she has also reached out to several school board members. While these individuals told her this was unacceptable and Kellogg told her he would look into the issue, she said she doubts anything will change, citing a lack of sufficient action regarding the 2021 incident.
“This is typical Westerville,” Shai said. “They respond to an initial outreach and do nothing. … They say all the right things and it goes nowhere. … They continually make poor decisions that are not in the interest of the students.”
However, Viebranz said the district is taking such incidents seriously, with a department established specifically to address such problems.
He said, “In response to this current matter, and with regard to concerns of increasing antisemitic behavior at the national level, the superintendent had reached out to our educational equity department to ensure their ongoing work with our students and staff at all levels is reflective of this topic. This department was established in our district in 2014 and remains a critical component to our ability to address such matters systemically.”