Just after the start of Hanukkah, a student found a drawing of a swastika on a desk at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, according to a letter to the community from Principal Intern Gregory Miller.
MCPS is investigating the incident, which occurred Friday, according to Miller.
Miller wrote that the swastika is a “hateful symbol of antisemitism” and is prohibited under MCPS policy on Nondiscrimination, Equity, and Cultural Proficiency.
“I recognize how hurtful this incident is to our Jewish community, especially as Thursday, December 7 marked the beginning of Hanukkah,” Miller wrote. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to creating spaces with students and teachers to actively combat antisemitism and hate in all its forms.”
Whitman has been no stranger to antisemitic incidents. In the past two years, the school has seen graffiti painted on the school sign that said, “Jews not welcome,” antisemitic comments made by students on the debate team and emailed to school staff, and hate symbols carved into wooden stools.
MCPS has also been grappling with antisemitism within the school system. Since the Oct. 7 attack, the district has been grappling with numerous antisemitic incidents such as graffiti found in a bathroom at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg on Dec. 5 and, in October, at Thomas Pyle Middle School in Bethesda and Chevy Chase Elementary School. The district also faced criticism for statements it released on the war.
In addition, there have been at least three district educators have been placed on administrative leave after social media posts related to the Israel-Hamas war were deemed antisemitic. A fourth teacher, who is Muslim and Arab, was placed on leave in November for including a Palestinian rallying cry in her email signature. The Council for American-Islamic Relations filed a discrimination complaint against MCPS after the move on Friday.
After the student reported the incident, school officials notified county police and MCPS’ Office of School Support and Well-Being and filed appropriate reporting forms, Miller wrote.
County police did not immediately respond to inquiries about the incident and police response.
The student-run school newspaper at Whitman, The Black & White, first reported the incident on Wednesday. Whitman assistant principal Kristi McAleese said administrators would be working to raise awareness about antisemitic symbols at school, The Black & White reported.
“We are going to continue to work with our partners and our student unions to make the significance and intentions behind these symbols known,” McAleese told student journalists.
In the community letter, Miller explained that the school community has and will continue to work to address antisemitism at the school. He wrote that in August the Whitman school cluster partnered with the Jewish Community Relation Council of Greater Washington to provide staff with training on the experience of Jewish students, antisemitism and how it manifests in schools.
Parent leaders in the Whitman PTSA, Stressbusters and DEI committee are working to provide a series of sessions called the Community of Care, which are focused on building strong relationships across the school community, he wrote.
Representatives of the Whitman PTSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Miller encouraged parents to talk with their children about being respectful, accepting and understanding of the differences of all people. “Please help them to understand the weight that intolerable symbols, words, and actions carry with them,” he wrote.
If the school identifies the student responsible for the drawing, they will face consequences in alignment with the MCPS Student Code of Conduct, Miller wrote. According to the Code of Conduct, the use or displaying of symbols that promote hate falls under all levels of disciplinary action, from detention and talks with a school counselor to in-school, short- and long-term suspension or expulsion.
Miller thanked the student who reported the incident to school staff and encouraged those with more information on the incident to contact the school’s main office at 240-740-4800.