A California school system said Monday it “strongly” condemned a video recorded last year showing students singing a Nazi song and giving the Nazi salute. But administrators would not say how students were disciplined or why officials did not immediately tell the school community about the incident.
The Daily Beast obtained a video it said shows some members of the boys water polo team at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove at an awards ceremony. The video, the news website reports, shows the students singing a song that was composed by Nazi Party member Herms Niel and played to Nazi troops during World War II. As at least one boy started singing, others could be heard laughing.
The high school and the Garden Grove Unified School District issued a statement condemning the video, saying it shows “some students who engaged in offensive Nazi-related gestures.” Officials said the video was taken late last year after school at an off-campus student athletics banquet and shared on Snapchat with a small group of students.
The statement said school officials did not learn of the video until March 2019, four months after the banquet, “at which time school administrators took immediate action and addressed the situation with all students and families involved.”
Abby Broyles, public information officer for the school district, said administrators did not alert the school community when they found out about the video because federal law prohibits it. She said in an email:
School administrators did not alert the entire school community at the time because administrators did not learn of the video until four months after it was filmed and it was isolated to a small group of students. As you know, federal law prohibits school officials from disclosing details of student discipline, however immediate action was taken. Schools are not in the practice of sharing with the entire school community all disciplinary actions unless those incidents have impacted the school community. School administrators have sent a message to all families and the district is developing new protocols for students and schools to report hate speech and related actions via existing anonymous reporting avenues.
The Daily Beast quoted Rabbi Peter Levi, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Orange County, Calif., chapter, who said he thought administrators should have told the community:
Generally speaking, especially when something like this involves a group, we would think a more meaningful approach would be to use this as a learning opportunity, as an opportunity community-wide to state what our values are. This requires investigation and conversation . . . We’d like to see a more systematic response.
Late last year, the FBI reported that hate crimes had spiked 17 percent in 2017 from the year before, including a 37 percent jump in anti-Semitic incidents. A number of anti-Semitic incidents involving students have been reported nationally in recent months.
In March, high school students in Orange County, Calif., were suspended after photos showed them making the “Heil Hitler” salute above a swastika rendered from beer cups. The cups were being used to play beer pong.
At that time, Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials sent a letter to parents saying:
We were recently made aware of social media postings involving some students who created inappropriate anti-semitic symbols, and possible underage drinking. While these actions did not occur on any school campus or school function, we condemn all acts of anti-semitism and hate in all their forms.
And in January, two students at a Minnesota high school were seen in a photo making the Nazi salute as they held an invitation to a school dance that contained references to Adolf Hitler.
The statement from the Garden Grove Unified School District and Pacifica High School said in full:
Garden Grove Unified School District and Pacifica High School strongly condemn a video recorded last year of some students who engaged in offensive Nazi-related gestures. The video was filmed in November 2018 prior to the start of an after school hours, off-campus student athletics banquet in an empty and unsupervised room at the facility. The video was shared within a small group of students on SnapChat. It was not brought to the attention of the administration of Pacifica High School until March of 2019, four months following the banquet, at which time school administrators took immediate action and addressed the situation with all students and families involved. Federal law (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibits the district from disclosing details of student discipline.
In response to this unfortunate incident, district and school administrators have reached out to community organizations to provide support that will continue to ensure an anti-bias learning environment and address issues of hate, bias, and exclusion with all staff and students. Pacifica High School, along with our other district schools, will be working with students, staff, and parents to continue to address these issues in the fall in collaboration with agencies dedicated to anti-bias education.
A highly diverse district, Garden Grove Unified School District actively combats bias and bullying, remains focused on fostering an inclusive environment for all stakeholders and is committed to holding students accountable, educating them on the consequences of their choices and the impact these actions have on our schools and community at large. In 2017, the district passed Resolution 20, an ongoing commitment to safe and welcoming schools, and in the new school year the district will be launching a campaign for student, staff, and community wellness. As a part of the “Choose Wellness” campaign, students, staff, and parents from across the district will come together to address issues of well-being and a welcoming climate, including addressing bullying, hate speech/actions, and our role in building inclusive communities which reflect equity and respect for all.