Police rule out anti-Semitic hate crime incident at Middle School

STOCKBRIDGE— The Great Barrington Police Department has closed an investigation into claims of anti-Semitic threats made at Monument Valley Middle School last week, according to the police chief.

The investigation was closed after working with middle school
officials, said Police Chief William Walsh.

“After a risk assessment evaluation, the school has devised a
safety plan to monitor the student constantly,” said Walsh in a statement. “We
feel there is not a threat posed by the student nor that a crime was committed.
The school and police have reached out to several community groups regarding
the incident.”

Last week, Berkshire Hills Regional District Superintendent
Peter Dillon gave an update to the school committee about how the district
plans to respond to a theme of hate speech, during its Thursday, Nov. 21
meeting.

At the meeting, Dillon said that he feels that students are
safe within the district’s building and that there have been meetings held with
local law enforcement to tackle the matter. There are also meetings planned for
the future for parents to join in as well, he added.

“Almost every year, we have some sort of hate speech incident,”
said Dillon. “One year, it is something directed at black students, then the
next year, it is something anti-semitic, then the next year it is something
again at black students. Every once in awhile latino students or recent
immigrants are victimized.”

Dillon highlighted some of the work being done by middle and
high school students with the Anti-Defamation League, but said more needs to be
done to stop a trend of hateful rhetoric.

“There’s a pattern … and it’s not just in Berkshire Hills and
Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge,” said Dillon. “It’s all
over the country.”

Last week, Dillon met with Ben Doran, principal of Monument
Valley Middle School, and nearly two dozen community and faith-based leaders,
including members of the local NAACP chapter and the Berkshire County District
Attorney’s office. Dillon mentioned that among the powerful moments of the
meeting included personal stories being shared by several of the attendees.

He hopes that the community conversation, along with several
others planned for the future, will help “disrupt the cycle” of hate speech
within the school district.

“We’re going to have several meetings, but one of the things we
agreed to early as a group is that it’s important that we stand together
against hate,” said Dillon. “A lot of folks in that group have agreed to write
letters to the editor over the next several months.”

Rabbi Neil Hirsch of the Great Barrington-based synagogue,
Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, was among the group of community and faith-based
leaders who met to discuss the most recent hate incident.

“I’m disheartened these events happen every year,” said Hirsch.
“But I am encouraged by the fact that the district is taking it seriously.”

Hirsch said that members of his congregation are among those
directly affected by the most recent instance of hate speech. Hirsch hopes that
the future conversations lead to a two-fold

“One is to broaden the conversation beyond anti-Semitism,” said
Hirsch. “Hate is hate. We also want to build a strong ally ship in our
community. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Rich Dohoney, member of the Berkshire Hills school committee,
said he had complete confidence in the way the district was handling the
race-based incidents, but questioned whether gender-based hate incidents were
happening within the district and were being dealt with accordingly.

Dillon confirmed that he had heard of simple gender-based
incidents happening in the district, including cases of homophobia.

“It’s also about what gets to the principals’ attention, to the
teachers’ attention and to my attention,” said Dillon. “Hate speech has no
place in our schools and our community, but as I’ve said several times, the
schools reflect what is going on in our community. Some of it is going on
nationally, some of it is going on locally, some of it is going on in south
county.”

At the end of the school committee meeting, Dillon suggested
that the school committee and faculty lead by example.

“It’s probably a good idea for us collectively to check our own
language and [ask] are we doing things that aren’t intentional, but are
perceived as problematic … it’s something I think about a lot,” said Dillon.

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