Town reeling after offensive language, symbols spray painted outside school

Town reeling after offensive language, symbols spray painted outside school

HARVARD, Mass. — Police in the town of Harvard are investigating swastikas and offensive language written on school property.

The vandalism was found Friday morning on a rock outside the Bromfield School.

The Department of Public Works painted over the graffiti and covered the rock with a tarp, but the effect is still being felt in the small town.

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Residents called police on Friday morning after finding the swastikas painted over the Jewish Star, as well as homophobic symbols and racist messages on the rock.

Students from grades six through twelve attend the Bromfield school, and the rock has become a sacred space for self-expression and acceptance.

“The rock is a symbol to the school," said Harvard Police Det. Daniele Fortunato. "It's something they've done for decades, where they come in, the incoming class decorates the rock. It's an important symbol to the town."

Police are now investigating the case as a hate crime, and, Fortunato said, the Attorney General's Office is also investigating.

Police say they recovered evidence at the scene, and they are looking into video surveillance nearby.

Meanwhile, an effort has begun to repaint the rock with messages of tolerance and hope for the future.

Harvard resident and Bromfield graduate Emma Franzeim heard about the incident and decided to help coordinate the repainting.

“All of these symbols of equality and tolerance were already on the rock, and now we've had this negative response to it," Franzeim said. "I really wanted to support the kids as they address their space and confront the hateful symbolism head-on."

Franzeim is communicating with students, offering money, supplies and hot chocolate for the kids to reprint the rock Saturday afternoon from 1 to 3.

She and police agree the messages do not reflect the values of the small town, and they hope the experience starts an important dialogue.

“Something really good is going to come out of this moment, and the outcry in the community is just going to create a platform for something really positive to happen,” said Franzeim.

Many believe the vandalism was a bad decision made by kids. If so, Franzeim urges adults to recognize the hurtful language they may use in front of children and to realize kids do listen.

Superintendent Linda Dwight sent FOX25 a statement condemning the incident and promising the school's Diversity Committee as well as other school leaders will explore ways to bolster the curriculum so that similar incidents do not occur in the future.