Developing: Swastikas Found at Sidwell Friends

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Email sent from Sidwell’s Head of School to parents. Source: HuffPost.

During an assembly at Sidwell Friends School on Wednesday, March 6th, two swastikas appeared on the leaderboard of a school-wide Kahoot game. The incident comes after three swastikas were found at GDS in November.

During Sidwell’s weekly assembly, students gathered to hear from OnSide, a charity group that focuses on welcoming refugees to the D.C. area. The presentation was held by Sidwell students and ended in Kahoot, a game that allows users to answer specially designed trivia questions with their phones. Through the game, students create an alias, and a leaderboard containing scores and corresponding aliases are displayed after each question.

During the assembly, the leaderboard was projected on a screen to the entire upper school. After two questions, the game went awry: two of the usernames on the leaderboard contained swastikas.

“It’s kind of hard to type out swastikas on a phone,” one Sidwell student, who has been granted anonymity to protect his identity, said. “It was during an assembly so no one brought their computer or anything, so that would either mean they already had the swastikas on their phone for easy use or they Googled it during the time and copied and pasted it into Kahoot.”

Students reported that they also saw racially charged usernames aimed at Asian Americans and Native Americans on the board.

When students first saw the usernames, they didn’t know how to respond. The student reported that some students initially laughed, feeling simply dumbfounded about the absurdity of the situation.

“Everyone was surprised that out of the 500 people playing, that one was the one that managed to be in first place,” the student said.

Once the leaderboard containing the anti-Semitic username was displayed, Sidwell’s Assistant Dean of Student Darren Speece promptly gestured for the presenters to close their computer and commenced an all-school moment of silence, a Quaker tradition that occurs at the end of every school gathering. After the moment of silence, students were dismissed, but another Sidwell student said that some students continued to sit in disbelief.

In an email sent to parents on Wednesday night, Sidwell’s Head of School Bryan Garman confirmed the school has commenced an investigation: “We have begun a thorough investigation into the matter to ascertain the identity of the students responsible for this action.”

The next day, Garman spoke to students in a normally scheduled school-wide meeting during first period.

The incident during Kahoot was not the first time the Sidwell community has encountered anti-Semitism. According to a Sidwell student, last year students found a swastika etched into a bench in the school’s worship room. Additionally, this past fall, two seniors were suspended after using anti-Semitic slurs when addressing one another while playing ping pong in the Senior Center. Following the incident in the Senior Center, administrators met with the senior class to make sure such incidents would come to an end.

“I wasn’t surprised. We’ve had past incidences of anti-Semitism at Sidwell earlier this year, like in the Senior Center,” one Sidwell student, who has also been granted anonymity, said. “I personally think that the person who did it is most likely not anti-Semitic. I think they did it for a reaction without realizing the gravity behind what they were doing.”

In the final paragraph of his email to parents, Garman condemned the incident by citing a core school belief: “Racism and anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in this community.”

This is a developing story.

By Zach Blank ’19 and Annalise Myre ’19