collage of peaceful demonstrators March 17, 2023Collage of peaceful demonstrators at schools March 17.

UPDATED March 23: Educators, local government officials, students and parents took part in a brief “standout” Friday morning March 17, that occurred at nearly a dozen locations simultaneously.

They were there to demonstrate acceptance of all identities and to reject the bigotry of incidents of hate speech discovered in recent weeks at public schools as well as elsewhere in Arlington.

Since then, local authorities announced on Thursday, March 23, the arrest of a suspect in one of those cases, which occurred off campus near Spy Pond.

The peaceful gatherings took place between approximately 8 and 8:20 a.m.

The effort at all 11 public-school buildings was led by the Arlington Education Association, whose president is Julianna Keyes.

“The standout was inspired by the Belmont Education Association and the Belmont Educators of Color and Allies, who hosted a similar event against racism earlier in the month,” she told YourArlington via email over the weekend.

“In Arlington we have seen several incidents of hate speech and acts of bias recently and felt it was important to take a stand for our students and staff who are members of targeted groups. Our schools should be safe and welcoming environments for all. 

“We are thankful to the town and the school administration for their support, and to the Massachusetts Teachers Association for quickly printing signs and stickers for us. We can't solve discrimination in 20 minutes, but we can send a clear message to the perpetrators that it is not welcome in our schools.”

Superintendent describes steps going forward

YourArlington previously reported on the incidents, which the town’s police and its Human Rights Commission are investigating. These include hate-graffiti vandalism at Arlington High School and at Ottoson Middle School, as well as other untoward incidents off campus in recent weeks.

Schools’ Superintendent Elizabeth Homan attended the single biggest gathering, in front of AHS. Via email Sunday, she told YourArlington that those there included School Committee members, Select Board members and Town Manager Sandy Pooler.

She estimated the AHS group to have been between 75 and 100 people and said that, based on reports she has received, gatherings at the other 10, smaller campuses appear to have averaged around 20 people each. Those figures add up to roughly 300.

“We are all disheartened by recent displays of intolerance in our schools, our community and across the commonwealth. We are all working together to engage in actions that demonstrate to students and our community that we do not tolerate or condone hate speech,” Homan said via email when asked why she participated.

“I believe in the message of love, care, belonging and inclusion that our teachers were sending on Friday morning, and [I] was happy to hear from several community members on Friday thanking us for our collective efforts.”

Asked what plans are in the works to avoid any possible repeat offenses, Homan wrote, “We are taking both proactive actions and responsive actions to prevent further occurrences.”

Over the next few weeks there are to be workshops and discussions at AHS and at OMS -- some for identity groups that appear to have been specifically targeted by graffiti and others for the entire student body. She said the district will continue its ongoing organization of on-campus heritage and multicultural events to promote inclusion and the sharing of residents' diverse backgrounds. And APS will ensure routine monitoring of common areas for evidence of hate speech so as to identify it the same day it appears and to verify that it was visible only for a short time.

Town, state officials also represented

Pooler confirmed that he also was at AHS on Friday. “This seemed a good occasion to stand with other Arlingtonians to show our disapproval of that [hate] speech and our unity in supporting all members of the community,” he wrote in response to YourArlington’s inquiry.

“The Select Board and I have made strong commitments to DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] work in town. It is an ongoing commitment, and we will continue to stand up for all our residents.” 

Rep. Sean Garballey, who represents most of Arlington at the Massachusetts State House, was also there.  He told YourArlington via email on Monday, "I was proud to join friends from the Arlington Education Association, Arlington Public Schools administration and town officials for a standout outside of Arlington High School to strongly demonstrate that hate has no place in our community and in our schools."

March 13, 2023: Graffiti inside gender-neutral bathroom part of wider issue 

This news summary was published Monday, March 20, 2023, based on information from local school and town officials. It was updated Tuesday, March 21, 2023, to add a quote from local state Rep. Sean Garballey. It was updated Thursday, March 23, to report that local police had arrested an adult suspect alleged to be tied to anti-LGBTQIA+ graffiti found at a bicycle rental station near Spy Pond.