ENCINITAS — Serious acts of anti-Semitic and homophobic vandalism — including spray-painted slurs and swastikas — were reported at San Dieguito Academy last week.
The graffiti was discovered in the student bathrooms and included foul language and anti-Semitic imagery, including photoshopped images of faculty members who are Jewish, or have Jewish surnames, superimposed on images of Nazi troops pasted on walls.
Last week, the school sent out two emails informing parents of the situation. The second email, from school Principal Adam Camacho, included a copy of the statement teachers read to students that day during second period classes.
“It is with great sadness and concern that we as a staff share with you that as of early this morning SDA’s community has suffered a recent rash of vandalism and destructive activities,” read the teacher’s statement to students. “Foul and homophobic language, disturbing anti-Semitic imagery, including swastikas, have been drawn on and photoshopped images taped to restroom walls. These images are being shared through text and social media. These symbols and language reflect intolerance and hate, and they have provoked heartbreak and disappointment in our community.”
The statement went on to read: “SDA is an inclusive family, a welcoming place where each student should feel safe at all times. We have all worked diligently to create a culture of acceptance and tolerance. This graffiti is not representative of our school community and we condemn it in no uncertain terms.”
The statement said administration is working closely with students, staff, campus supervisors, as well as external resources, including the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department, to identify the offender(s) and hold them accountable.
The statement ended by urging anyone who knows anything to come forward, to share with a trusted adult, submit a tip to WeTip.com, or drop a note in the “Kids That Care” box in the Mustang Commons.
“Do the right thing,” it read. “Do not allow hate and intolerance to supersede love and acceptance. One person of integrity can make a difference. We are here for you.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that school administrators have contacted them regarding vandalism at the school but didn’t comment further.
Calls and emails to Camacho have not been returned.
Tammy Gillies, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego, said her organization has been working both with the school and the sheriff’s department on how best to handle this situation. She added that the school has been working with the ADL even before this incident, as it is one of 1,600 schools across the country that take part in the ADL’s No Place for Hate movement.
“It is very disturbing and at this point we don’t know what the intention was of the perpetrator, so we don’t know if this was a hate crime or what it was, yet,” Gillies said Dec. 17 about the vandalism. “But it’s not so much about the intention, I think, as it is about the impact that it has on the community. Students and teachers feeling uncomfortable and unsafe going to school, because if you’re one of those groups that you hear has been targeted that’s not a safe school climate for you to want to go to.”
Gillies said she believes that before the winter break SDA will be putting out a statement of some programming they plan to do when the students get back and “address this in a way that’s most helpful for everyone and creating that school environment that people want to be in.”
Dan Kincade posted about the situation on Nextdoor, saying he heard about it from the parent of a student at the school.
“As a community I believe we have a right to know when hate and bigotry raises its ugly head within our ranks,” Kincade, who is Jewish, wrote. “I hope we can get the honest facts surrounding this incident and that the forces that may be active to ‘sweep this under the rug’ don’t prevail.”
As far as what punishment the culprits may face, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office said for kids 18 and older, for regular vandalism the max punishment is anywhere from one to three years in county jail, depending on the damage. For a hate crime vandalism, the maximum punishment is six years.
The DA’s office couldn’t comment on punishment for juveniles, since proceedings for minors are confidential.
In his email last week to “Mustang Families,” Camacho wrote that he wanted to thank everyone who has reached out with their concern and support of the school community.
“We are grateful for your response and for engaging with your students at home regarding the gravity of this condemnable behavior,” Camacho wrote. “Without reservation, we are united in denouncing this type of behavior and expression.”
Gillies said she commends the school and the sheriff’s department for taking this matter seriously.
“The thing that scares me the most is the normalization of hate that we’re seeing where big things hardly make the news anymore,” she said. “I applaud both the school and the sheriff’s department for not allowing this just to be swept under the rug or just normalizing it. I think it was really handled well and there’s obviously work to do in the school.”
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.