Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington Credit: Andrew Metcalf

This article was updated at 9:49 a.m. Jan. 22 to incorporate statements from the Montgomery County Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

Swastikas were drawn this week on desks at three county schools, Montgomery County Public Schools and the Board of Education announced Saturday, amid a spate of antisemitic episodes in the county.

The County Council, MCPS and the school board condemned the hateful messaging, called for solidarity against hate, and endorsed efforts to stamp out antisemitism to make county schools “no place for hate.”

Two county councilmembers took to social media on Saturday to call for school officials to revisit curriculum on antisemitism .

This week’s incidents took place at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington and Tilden Middle School in Rockville (where a swastika and KKK symbols had been drawn on a desk in April 2022), district communications director Chris Cram said in an email Saturday evening to Bethesda Beat. Both Silver Creek and Tilden have participated in the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program. The district said culpable students were disciplined.

The episodes follow several other incidents of antisemitism this academic year at MCPS. Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda was defaced with antisemitic graffiti on Dec.17, on the eve of Hanukkah, and several staff members received anonymous, antisemitic emails the next day. Cram confirmed Saturday to Bethesda Beat that a previously reported incident of graffiti Aug. 21 at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School had contained antisemitic messaging.

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After the incidents in December at Whitman, hundreds of students and staff there participated in a walkout to show support for Jewish classmates and call for increased Holocaust education within MCPS.

Two council members — County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) and Councilmember Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4) — said on Twitter that they would be taking steps to work with MCPS to improve education on antisemitism.

Stewart stated she was “deeply troubled” and would be speaking with her staff to discuss enhancing the MCPS curriculum around antisemitism. 

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Glass called the incident “disgusting” and said he would speak with the MCPS about its policies and curriculum.

In its statement Saturday, MCPS and the school board said, “We must do more, and we will,” but did not specify curriculum changes.

“In collaboration with advocates such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, we will continue our efforts to educate our students about antisemitism,” officials wrote. “Our schools have held and will continue to hold restorative conversations with students and staff, and schools have held community meetings to discuss incidents, but honest and forthright conversations must continue.”

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When asked, Cram did not elaborate on curriculum changes but said in a followup email, “The JCRC has already done a great deal of work with many students in our schools bringing in Holocaust survivors for example.”

The JCRC of Greater Washington said on Twitter, “Grateful for MCPS’ statement. No Jewish student should wonder whether the next desk they sit at will have a swastika, or the next restroom they enter will have hateful graffiti about Jews on the walls” and followed up to say they “looked forward to welcoming” Superintendent Monifa McKnight to meet with Jewish residents of Montgomery County.

Of the three incidents this week, MCPS said in its statement: “In each case, students and the staff addressed the vile impact of the hateful images, worked to immediately remove the drawings, and in each case, appropriate discipline in alignment with the MCPS Student Code of Conduct was assigned.” 

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The letter from Silver Creek administrators said they planned to schedule student town hall meetings to readdress their core values and to discuss the importance of being a No Place for Hate school.

Silver Creek has been the site of anti-Jewish vandalism in the past. In 2019, the school had been defaced with antisemitic graffiti twice over the span of a year, once at a boys’ bathroom in May 2019 and again on a school desk in November 2019.

Schools are not the only sites of antisemitic activity in Montgomery County in recent months. Anti-Jewish flyers were deposited Dec. 16 near Westfield Montgomery mall. In November, graffiti, including hangman figures, a swastika and the words “No mercy for Jews,” was discovered on the Bethesda Trolley Trail in the Wildwood Manor section of North Bethesda and on a brick wall at Old Georgetown Road and Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda. In August, police found swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti in three places along the Trolley Trail and an antisemitic poster in Kensington.

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In November, the County Council unanimously passed a resolution to address and combat antisemitism. It affirmed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

The statement Saturday from MCPS and the school board called for members of the community to “speak loudly and together against antisemitism and all acts of hate and racism.”

“We must be inclusive and welcoming of everyone in our diverse and vibrant community. Our differences make us stronger and better and make our community an exciting place to live; there is no room for hate.”

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A statement Sunday from the County Council said, “The Council stands in solidarity with our Jewish community, and with our MCPS students and families. We share the values embraced by our schools, school leaders, and Board of Education members, which include zero tolerance for hate and dangerous displays of religious bigotry.”

Councilmembers thanked schools officials for their efforts on the issues and said, “We cannot allow schools to become places of fear. We must continue to forcibly speak out against hate and religious bigotry in all forms and continue to educate our youth about the values of inclusivity, diversity and acceptance that we embrace here in Montgomery County.”

Apps Bichu reports on growth and justice. She can be reached at apps.bichu@bethesdamagazine.com