Swastika Inquiry Enrages Parents

East Hampton High School’s county-champion boys soccer team received a standing ovation before Tuesday’s school board meeting got under way. Rich King, the head coach, at the lectern, introduced each player to applause as well.
East Hampton High School’s county-champion boys soccer team received a standing ovation before Tuesday’s school board meeting got under way. Rich King, the head coach, at the lectern, introduced each player to applause as well. Morgan McGivern

    East Hampton High School’s interim superintendent, Richard Burns, and the school’s principal, Adam Fine, had hoped by holding a press conference Tuesday afternoon to pre-empt discussion at the school board meeting that night concerning a defaced boys soccer team photo in the locker room. It was discovered the morning of Nov. 7, a day in which the boys soccer and volleyball teams vied in playoff games here.
    But no sooner had the county-championship soccer team, which is largely Latino, filed out of the high school’s auditorium, after having received a standing ovation from the board meeting’s attendees, than all hell broke loose.
    For the better part of three hours, until 10:30, a debate involving parents, board members, and the school’s administrators raged. Administrators claimed they had been appropriately “proactive” in trying to ascertain the source of the defaced photo on which swastikas and genitalia had been drawn. Incensed parents of children who played on the boys volleyball team, whose practice followed the soccer team’s on Nov. 6, countered that the fact-finding forays — and a press release sent out earlier Tuesday saying the volleyball players were questioned — had effectively thrown their sons under the bus.
    “There were many, many other people in the building that day who could have committed the act,” said one of the incensed parents, Mary Lownes, maintaining that the administration still had no evidence that a boys volleyball player or players had been culpable.
    When told by the district’s athletic director, Joe Vas, that care had been used in questioning their sons and that the district guidelines for such incidents had been followed faithfully, Ms. Lownes and other parents, including Layla Bennett and Tiffany King, said that, to the contrary, their children had been “bullied” and “threatened” with the cancellation of their semifinal Division II playoff game that evening with Sayville should the offender or offenders not be produced.
    “During the course of their playoff game,” said Ms. Lownes, “it was confusing for those of us seated in the stands to understand why our boys were playing so inconsistently. They seemed visibly shaken, they were yelling at each other, which was so uncharacteristic of their play this season. It now becomes evident that the stress . . . put upon them by your administration and the pathetically bad officiating that evening put them over the edge.” Sayville bested the Bonackers in the encounter three games to one.
    The Tuesday press release said in part that “L.C. Nelson, the head custodian, confirmed that . . . all doors to the locker room [on Nov. 6] were locked except the door from the coaches’ office, and [that] no one other than the volleyball team could gain entry into the locker room.”
    In rebuttal, Ms. Lownes said that “another coach later discovered that a door that was thought to be locked leading to the locker room wasn’t locked . . . there was another way into the locker room not in the [security] camera viewing area.”
    “But by the time,” she continued, “this information was discovered, the damage had already been done: Our boys had been accused, interrogated, shamed, and put in a panic situation over the threat of not playing their playoff game that evening.”
    Virtually everyone in the audience agreed that to have drawn swastikas, universally abhorrent symbols of hate and mass murder, was a very serious offense.
    Laura Anker Grossman, the board’s chairwoman, said in this regard that the defacing (the investigation of which has been turned over to the East Hampton Town Police Department) could prove to be “a teaching moment” meriting a broader forum on the subject.
    But the furious parents, who had apparently not been notified of the inquiry nor been invited to participate in it, seemed of a mind that what Ms. Lownes had called a “witch hunt” ought to serve as a teaching point for the administration as well.
    “You didn’t do due diligence,” said Ms. Lownes. “We should have been called. You brought this on yourselves by accusing the volleyball players of committing a hate crime.”
    “The kids deserve an apology,” Ms. Bennett said before the meeting was adjourned.
With Reporting by Bridget LeRoy


Comments

What is it with the East Hampton folks....every time they lose it's always the refs fault...soccer, volleyball....unreal
"Virtually everyone in the audience agreed that to have drawn swastikas, universally abhorrent symbols of hate and mass murder, was a very serious offense." Were there any people of Jewish heritage among those who objected to the immediate investigation of the posting of the emblem of the Nazi effort to eliminate all Jews from the world? No -- I didn't think so. Perhaps "virtually everyone" at the meeting gave lip service to swastikas being "universally abhorrent symbols of hate and mass murder" -- but when the investigation puts "stress" on the high school athletes, and maybe even affects their competition with another school's team, well then, maybe swastikas aren't *quite* all that bad. Based on the facts in this article, I'd say that the school was absolutely correct in acting immediately to question all those on the scene. Guesswork after the fact by some parents upset by their team’s loss that, gee, maybe there was another door open, doesn't change the appropriateness of talking to all those on the scene at the time of the event. It's of no consequence that the investigation did not ultimately identify the culprit -- it would have been shameful to have ignored the events, ignored the opportunity to question everyone there, ignored the need to investigate immediately, because there was an athletic event going on. The event called for a prompt response, not deference to some athletic competition. And, really, if someone from the outside had wanted to post that atrocity, why would they sneak into a locker room (of all places) to do it -- even if there were a second door mysteriously left open? Was the swastika put up in the locker room because that was the most effective place for an outsider to reach an audience -- or because it was a convenient place for some jerk already there to have some mean-spirited fun when others' backs were turned? To some at least, that athletic event has far less meaning than the malicious evocation of the murder of six million innocent people. It was appropriate to try to find the culprit.
Very True - as far as the Coach putting stress on the team, I think If I was a 17 year old guy on that team I'd be pretty stressed if my mom went to a Public meeting and made a public spectacle that her kid was picked on by the coach. Nothing like sending the kids the wrong message. It was about 5 parents, one in particular that phoned the rest to stir the pot. There are plenty of parents and kids that think this is nothing more than an attack on the coach.