Administration responds to hate crime on campus

A swastika was painted on the wall of the boys’ B Building bathroom on Oct. 11, less than five days after an attack on Israel was conducted by Hamas, a political presence in the Gaza Strip that self identifies as an Islamist resistance movement and is seen as a terrorist organization by the governments of Israel, the U.S. and several other Western nations.

The swastika was drawn in spray paint some time in the morning between 6:30 a.m. — when the B Building was unlocked — and 10:30 a.m. — approximately when an email alerting staff was sent. Later that day, after the swastika was reported by a student, a message was sent to families categorizing the swastika as a “hate crime” and alerting the community that the San Diego Police Department had been contacted. This marks a change from previous vandalism on campus, as the two swastikas drawn in the same bathroom in December 2022 were not deemed hate crimes in school communications, according to Coppo.

“The more permanent the tool that is used, the more likely it is to be called a hate crime,” Coppo said. “In the context of what had happened over the weekend, this was not a mistake.”

However, SDPD has not categorized the vandalism as a hate crime and is investigating it as vandalism for its permanence and costly damage, according to SDPD Sergeant Sal Hurtado.

“The swastika itself is a symbol … that has negative impact on people within our society but as far as a criminal investigation goes, it’s not actually documented as a hate crime,” Hurtado said.

SDPD also notified their partners, both the federal government and other local jurisdictions, of the incident in order to possibly link cases if other swastikas are reported in the area, according to Hurtado.

As of now, officials believe the perpetrator is a student, Coppo said.

The investigation is ongoing, and no one has been identified or charged in connection with the vandalism, according to Hurtado.

On social media, at least one photo of the swastika was shared, along with a message condemning the act. Many students also took to their accounts to share their opinions and personal connections to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The Falconer did not print the individual statements of TPHS students in order to protect their privacy, as some were criticized and threatened for their views on social media.

The day after the swastika was reported, two Jewish student clubs on campus organized an “act of solidarity with Israel,” asking students to wear blue and white and participate in a walk after school.

In a move later criticized by some students, the TPHS ASB reposted the clubs’ messaging.

“I didn’t see any reason not to post it, and I was concerned not posting it would be considered censorship at that point,” Coppo, who was consulted by ASB before the post went public, said.

However, after multiple comments under the post accused ASB, a school-sponsored student group, of taking a political stance on the conflict, comments were turned off and the post was later removed.

“Because it started to generate some backlash, we made the difficult decision in conjunction with the superintendent to pull the post because at that point, I felt word had gotten out,” Coppo said.

Supt. Anne Staffieri did not respond to Falconer requests for comment.

On Oct. 12, many students wore blue and white to school, and at 3:30 p.m., multiple students walked down Del Mar Heights Road holding Israeli flags.

On Oct. 27, all first-period classes will participate in a livestream presentation by Coppo and students regarding the swastika incident.

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