Swastika marks escalation in spate of vandalism at Dzántik’i Héeni Middle School

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School
A woman walks a pair of dogs at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau on the evening of Aug. 11, 2020. “Dzántik’i Héeni” is a Tlingit place name for Gold Creek that means “river at the base of flounder hill.” (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Faculty at Dzántik’i Héeni Middle School in Juneau discovered a covered play area had been vandalized Tuesday morning. There were crude drawings, crude language, someone’s phone number — and a swastika.

Assistant Principal Laura Scholes said they’ve had a spate of vandalism at the school this year. She said the swastika feels like an escalation.

“It’s smiley faces, a couple of you know, sexually explicit kind of drawings, crude things, but not — not anything like this,” she said.

The swastika has had many meanings across many cultures in history. But for the last century or so, innocuous meanings have largely been displaced by associations with white supremacy and Nazi Germany’s mass murder of Jews and other minority groups.

Scholes said they painted over the vandalism immediately and, unlike past incidents, reported it to police.

Juneau police spokesman Lt. Krag Campbell said it’s being investigated. He said individual reports of vandalism are often logged to identify potential trends without much follow-up. But he said this case sticks out and will get more attention. In part because of the swastika, but also because the vandalism included references to a specific person and phone number, meaning this could be some kind of harassment.

Campbell wasn’t ready to call it a hate crime but didn’t rule it out either.

Scholes doesn’t think it got much exposure and for now, doesn’t intend to address it with her school community. She said that could change, depending on what the police find out.

After KTOO contacted the Anti-Defamation League for comment, the organization said it would reach out to Dzántik’i Héeni to offer support. Miri Cypers is the league’s regional director and she said that could include age-appropriate discussions about history, trauma and the Holocaust.

“We always do advise and try to work with K-12 schools to examine and reflect on the incident that happened and think about how they could make it a teachable moment for their students and their broader school community about how they hopefully want to commit to having a school where all students feel a sense of belonging and there aren’t, you know, hateful acts of vandalism or other hateful acts that happen,” she said.

Cypers said bias incidents are ticking up in schools, which she calls microcosms of our communities. She said exposing these incidents creates opportunities for growth and conversation.

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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