Teachers take stand at all schools: From 8 to 8:25 a.m. Friday, March 17, members of the Arlington Education Association, the teachers' union, held a "standout" against hate speech and discrimination at each school building in Arlington. In an email to the school community, Principal Mattew Janger wrote March 16 that the goal "is to be a visible wall of support for our students and colleagues targeted by hate speech and acts of bias in Arlington over the past month.” The Arlington High School gathering was on the plaza area in front of Mass. Ave., and students and their family members were welcome to join in the peaceful demonstrations. 

Police, rights commission investigating incident from last week as well as others

New entrance, Arlington High School, at night 2022

UPDATED March 17: Arlington’s Human Rights Commission and local police are investigating after racist and homophobic graffiti was found inside a gender-neutral bathroom at Arlington High School on Wednesday, March 8. Statements issued March 14 and 15 point to further local cases of hate speech in the form of vandalism.

Arlington Public Schools, which posted information about  several virtual inclusionary workshops the following day and which issues a monthly antiracist newsletter, said officials removed the graffiti soon after learning about it. The high school released a statement four days later condemning the discriminatory act.

YourArlington did not receive the statement and learned about the incident March 13 from a Boston.com report

'Visible for most of Wednesday [March 8]'

"We are concerned that this message was visible for most of Wednesday before school leadership became aware and was able to have it removed," AHS Principal Matthew Janger wrote in his March 12 statement.

Officials have not described the message in more detail.

“Vandalism, graffiti and degrading language are harmful to our school and community,” he wrote. These words echo a similar statement released in 2017 and published by YourArlington.

“As an educational community," Janger wrote, "we welcome and encourage debate and diversity of view. Bias and discrimination break down the trust that allows us to share diverse views constructively and learn with and from each other.”

Students' efforts reported

CBS Boston reported that students had attempted to remove the graffiti upon finding it and that while school officials appreciate the sentiment, the district advises students to instead immediately report to adults incidents such as this.

“Sometimes incidents go unreported, even when they appear to be widely known,” Janger wrote. “. . . Rapid reporting helps minimize the harm, narrows down our investigation and helps identify folks in need of support. If we are not aware of those affected by incidents, we are not able to inform them of steps taken.”

The school reported the graffiti to the Arlington Police Department and to the town's Human Rights Commission. APD Chief Julie Flaherty told YourArlington on March 13 that "an incident did occur and APD is investigating it."

She then deferred to public school officials.

Superintendent responds

Schools' Superintendent Liz Homan told YourArlington on March 13 in advance of a planned news release: "Whenever the Arlington Public Schools identifies discriminatory or hateful graffiti anywhere on school grounds, we report the incident to the Arlington Human Rights Commission and conduct an investigation.

"In the interest of being transparent and including families as partners in helping students make kind and inclusive choices, we also alert families and encourage them to speak with their students and report any information they may have to aid in an investigation.

"To that end, this statement was sent by the Arlington High School principal to the community."

She also pointed to ongoing, affirming, proactive initiatives to improve inclusion across the Arlington Public Schools, planned well ahead of this incident. They are:

She noted that an LGBTQIA+ family forum hosted by the district's Rainbow Task Force focused on LGBTQIA+ representation and censorship in school libraries. 

March 14 town statement points to more cases

In a statement March 14, the town said, in part: "The Town of Arlington and its human-services agencies, police department, town government, public schools and human-rights groups are coming together to respond to a recent increase in bias-motivated and hate-speech incidents in town."

The statement further described the graffiti as an antisemitic message scrawled earlier this month on a bathroom wall at Ottoson Middle School.

Last weekend, Arlington police saw a large banner advertising a known hate group hanging over Route 2 on the Arlington side.

"Multiple incidents of anti-LGBTQIA+, racist and homophobic graffiti has been found around town, including at Arlington High School," the statement said.

Arlington Police removed the hate group's banner and are actively investigating all reports of hate graffiti, it said.

Another AHS incident took place March 14

Janger, in an email distributed to the school community March 15, reported another racist slur at AHS.

First referring to slurs in a school bathroom that he reported Sunday, Janger wrote: "Unfortunately, broad reporting of such events often seems to promote repetition, and one student with a pencil can negatively affect our school community.

"Yesterday, another racist slur was found written in a bathroom stall, this time in the old building. We appreciate the students who reported this, so that we were able to address it quickly.

"We do not automatically report any offensive language found on a wall, as this publicity may serve to increase the impact and harm. However, in this context, it is important to acknowledge that there has been an additional incident."

Officials' comments

In response, Homan, Flaherty, Director of Health and Human Services Christine Bongiorno, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jill Harvey, and the cochairs of the Arlington Human Rights Commission and the Arlington Rainbow Commission met and later provided these comments to the media.

“Over the past few months, there has been an increase in bias-related incidents in Arlington schools and on public and private property. These acts have included the theft of tolerance-affirming lawn signs from private residences, multiple instances of hateful graffiti,” Flaherty said. “The Arlington Police Department works to ensure that Arlington’s residents, employees and visitors are safe. These acts of bias are deeply disturbing to the peace and safety of our community. In addition to our investigations, we continue to work proactively with our community partners to keep Arlington safe.”

Harvey said: “The people targeted by these hateful acts are those who are typically marginalized -- black, indigenous and people of color, people who are LGBTQIA+, people who are Jewish and people who share multiple identities.

“It is incredibly important that town leadership makes it clear to those who have been targeted that we support them and affirm their belonging and place in Arlington. It is equally important that town leaders make it clear to those perpetrating these acts that their behavior is offensive, inappropriate and, in some instances, a violation of the law and will not be tolerated.”

Human Rights Commission Cochair Christine Carney said: “We encourage anyone who has experienced an act of bias to report it to the Human Rights Commission. We have 30 years of experience helping those who have experienced discrimination obtain some form of justice and resolution. No one should experience prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, unlawful discrimination, threats, coercion or intimidation.”

LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission Cochair Helene Newberg added: “We are disheartened by these acts of bias. But we are encouraged by the seriousness with which they are being taken by police and school officials. We encourage any resident or employee of Arlington experiencing anti-LGBTQIA+ bias to be in touch with the Rainbow Commission for assistance.”

Additionally, the Town of Arlington and Arlington Police Department have been in contact with the Anti-Defamation League, and further announcements about resources, investigative progress or town events will be made jointly by these same partner agencies in Arlington.

"Arlington prides itself on coming together in the face of adversity. We meet all challenges as a community, and we are not afraid to call out this kind of hatred and bigotry in our community," said Town Manager Sandy Pooler. "We will not be intimidated, and we will not sit quietly and allow any resident of Arlington to feel unsafe or unwelcome in our town."

Comments from school chief

In an email sent just after noon March 14 to YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer, Homan wrote to the community:

"I am writing to share my disappointment in recent events that have taken place in our schools and across the Town of Arlington involving vandalism of town and school property with harmful racist, antisemitic and homophobic graffiti. In response to these events, we have worked with Town of Arlington officials, commissions and departments to develop and post this statement to our website condemning such acts of discrimination.

"I will continue to work with our administrators to both respond to these instances of intolerance and to proactively design programming that fosters and sustains a culture of inclusivity and belonging in our schools.

"To share a few examples of these efforts, we were pleased to host a forum for our LGBTQIA+ community at Arlington High School yesterday evening. We are also looking forward to celebrating Heritage Day at [Ottoson Middle School] on Friday and to implementing inclusion workshops at Arlington High [School] later this month, among other initiatives. We invite you to speak with your children about these incidents as you find it appropriate and to partner with us by reporting any concerns to an administrator." 

Police investigate graffiti elsewhere

In a separate matter, the Rainbow Commission newsletter reported that the local police department is investigating incidents of anti-LGBTQIA+ graffiti that defaced a lamppost, payment screen and signs at the Blue Bike station on Linwood Avenue near Spy Pond.

The graffiti was reported to the town by multiple people. Arlington's departments of Public Works and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion worked with the police department to ensure that the graffiti was quickly removed.

The department also successfully investigated the theft of a "No Justice No Peace" sign from private property. A resident witnessed the theft of the sign and took a photo of the suspect’s license plate. Officers were able to identify and interview the person responsible. APD has charged this person with larceny. 

Dec. 7, 2018: Thompson parents step up after report of 'hate' graffiti at school

This news summary was published Monday, March 13, 2023, based on information from Boston.com and YourArlington's sources. It was updated Tuesday, March 14 ,and Wednesday, March 15, to add additional information and quotes and again March 17.