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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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