UPDATED Jan. 28, 11:45 p.m.
The principal of San Francisco’s Lowell High School on Monday said it was “highly likely” that racist, antisemitic and pornographic content shared recently on a virtual bulletin board was posted by a student.
“Our school and District remain outraged by what occurred, and we are committed to finding the perpetrators and ensuring full accountability for this heinous act,” principal Dacotah Swett wrote in a Jan. 25 community-wide email. She encouraged the community to watch her five-minute video message where she condemns the “racist and antisemitic attacks” on the high school.
The incident occurred on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, as students were writing reflections after an anti-racism lesson. During the session, an anonymous person put up multiple posts denigrating President Joe Biden using several racist and antisemitic slurs, according to screenshots shared with J.
“HE SHOULD DIE,” one of the posts read. “F— HIM AND F— YOU.”
In her email, Swett said the virtual bulletin board the students were using, called Padlet, had mistakenly made its settings public, where anyone with a link could share posts. Swett said the school is conducting interviews with staff and students. The city’s Department of Technology is investigating the incident as well.
Swett and the city’s schools superintendent did not respond to a request for comment.
Black and Jewish students at Lowell say the incident is indicative of a larger problem of discrimination at the elite public high school, where Black students make up only 2 percent of the student body. The school, which has more than 2,800 students, is majority Asian (61 percent), followed by white (18 percent) and Hispanic (11 percent), according to U.S. News & World Report.
“It was definitely very shocking and upsetting,” said Michaela Pelta, a Jewish senior at Lowell who recently penned an op-ed in J. about antisemitism at high schools like hers. In the op-ed, Pelta said she had reviewed previous cases of antisemitism at Lowell in her role as NCSY’s Jewish Student Union liaison for the West Coast.
Pelta also has been pushing the high school to build antisemitism education programming, and while there are indications that planning is in motion, she has not received a confirmation of when or whether it will be implemented.
I’ve been dealing with this during my entire time in high school.
Another Jewish student, junior Sharon Knafelman, said the incident “did not come as a surprise” because she has personally experienced instances of antisemitism as a Lowell student.
“I’ve been dealing with this during my entire time in high school,” she said.
Knafelman, who is the Leventhal High School Intern for the pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs, agrees that Lowell needs to do more to educate its students about antisemitism. “I think it happened because of their lack of teaching the issue,” she said.
Shavonne Hines-Foster, a Black student at Lowell interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, described the incident as “Lowell behavior.” In 2016, a group of students took part in a walkout in response to a student-made sign with racist overtones that was posted in the school library.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Nancy Appel, senior associate regional director of the Central Pacific Region, said her organization has “too often” seen online abuse against students during the pandemic.
“In every case, administrators should swiftly, unequivocally and specifically condemn bigotry against African Americans, Jews, and any other targeted group or individual,” Appel said. “They should also thoroughly investigate the incident and take corrective action.”
Appel said the ADL “stands ready to assist with our anti-bias training and resources.”
Hate crimes in the state, said the S.F.-based American Jewish Committee’s Associate Director Eran Hazary are “becoming far too regular an occurrence.”
He added, “What happened to the Lowell High School students was a hate crime. What is less common, and what makes this incident so shocking, is that these racist, antisemitic messages were inflicted upon our students, our children.”
On Jan. 25, Lowell’s student newspaper reported that two assistant principals had announced their resignations during a meeting between the high school’s leadership and Black students in the wake of the incident.
One of those assistant principals, Holly L. Giles, told J. via email that she was retiring, not resigning, and did not want to comment further.
“The district is aware of statements made in a meeting, but SFUSD has not received any official resignations or retirements from any Lowell administrators,” said San Francisco Unified School District spokesperson Laura Dudnick.