February 11, 2013

Greely High assembly to address 'Hitler' photo

The photo shows members of the girls' basketball team giving the Nazi salute.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Greely High School will hold a schoolwide assembly Tuesday to address a recent incident in which two members of the girls' basketball team were photographed in their uniforms giving the Nazi salute.

Next week, administrators from the middle and high schools will meet with regional advocates for the Jewish community, who are expected to call for new programs in the schools to teach acceptance.

"It's extremely important that we teach students the meaning behind their words, and they understand the effect the words can have," said Emily Chaleff, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine. "I think we do them an enormous disservice if we don't address it."

Chaleff and Robert Trestan, acting regional director for the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, and a representative from the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta are scheduled to meet with high school Principal Dan McKeone and middle school Principal Kim Brandt next week.

Tuesday's assembly will feature a presentation by Brandon Baldwin, coordinator of the Civil Rights Team project in the state Attorney General's Office, which establishes student-led groups statewide.

Greely High School's Civil Rights Team will likely be part of his presentation, he said. Some members of the girls' basketball team may also participate.

"The focus isn't going to be on what happened," Baldwin said. "It's going to be on the effects, and then how we respond."

Administrators said the photograph, which was posted on Facebook, is believed to have been taken by a parent.

Administrators also found that members of the team had been referring to one teammate as "Hitler."

A letter condemning the conduct was sent to parents of the basketball players.

Chaleff and Trestan said they plan to ask administrators to incorporate programs into the school curriculum that will foster discussions about biased, offensive language.

Asked if such programs exist for Greely students, McKeone said he and other administrators have to look at the existing curriculum before they meet with the Jewish community leaders. The school has protocols on bullying, he said.

The high school offers an elective course in genocide studies, he said, and eighth-graders learn about the Holocaust in history class. Building an atmosphere of acceptance in the schools is an "ongoing piece for us," he said.

According to the Pew Center on Religion and Public Life, which collects data nationally on the religious life of Americans, Jews account for less than one-half of 1 percent of Maine's roughly 1.3 million residents.

Chaleff estimated that in Cumberland, York and parts of southern Sagadahoc County, roughly 8,300 people identify themselves as Jewish -- less than 2 percent.

Such religious homogeneity increases schools' responsibility to educate people, she said.

"In schools where the diversity is not there, they need to make an extra effort," Chaleff said.

Parents of Greely students have been outspoken about the incident, McKeone said. Some have expressed sorrow and disappointment, while others have questioned how the offensive act could have occurred in their community.

Trestan, whose chapter of the Anti-Defamation League covers Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, said administrators should cultivate student leaders to help foster a culture of acceptance and respect for others.

"Somewhere along the way, the students who were involved in this, no one taught them any other options, no one taught them what the meaning of these things was," Trestan said. "This is an opportunity to change that."

 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

 

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