Denver superintendent pledges to stand with elementary school defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti

The top school official in Denver on Monday condemned anti-Semitic graffiti found at an elementary school over the weekend and pledged to stand with students and staff.

Messages of hope and love have replaced graffiti at Denver's Isabella Bird Community School. (Eric Gorsky/Chalkbeat)
Messages of hope and love have replaced graffiti at Denver's Isabella Bird Community School. (Eric Gorsky/Chalkbeat)
Messages of hope and love have replaced graffiti at Denver’s Isabella Bird Community School. (Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat)

By Melanie AsmarChalkbeat 

The top school official in Denver on Monday condemned anti-Semitic graffiti found at an elementary school over the weekend and pledged to stand with students and staff.

Community members came together Sunday to erase the graffiti, which included a swastika as well as the words “Die DJ Can” spray-painted on a door and some playground equipment at Isabella Bird Community School in northeast Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the school district is “working closely with Denver Police to identify those involved.”

“To our students and staff at Isabella Bird, we stand with you,” Boasberg said in a statement Monday. “To our families and community at Isabella Bird, we are deeply grateful for the outpouring of compassion and support demonstrated by your quick action in removing the graffiti and your thoughtful messages of love and acceptance.”

Josie Villalobos said she reported the graffiti to police and school officials after discovering it Saturday morning when she brought one of her daughters to the school playground. She said she felt sick, unsafe and stunned it could happen in a community that practices inclusivity.

On Monday afternoon, Villalobos was back at the playground pushing her daughter, Emma, on a swing. The graffiti had been scrubbed clean. A rainbow of paper cutout hearts had been taped to a nearby brick wall bearing words of encouragement, peace and love.

Some of the graffiti found at Isabella Bird Community School.
Some of the graffiti found at Isabella Bird Community School. (Courtesy of DPS)

“I was just so heartened by the response from the community, and the cleanup, and the hearts. It’s just fantastic,” said Villalobos, who has another daughter in the school. “It’s just a great lesson for the kids to know that this does happen and that this is going to be our response.”

A Denver Public Schools spokeswoman said the district hasn’t heard of similar incidents at other schools, nor have officials gotten reports of increased bullying or hate speech as have been reported at some schools around the country in the wake of the presidential election.

The Denver school board last week approved a resolution affirming the district’s goal to celebrate diversity and “act quickly to prevent and address any and all issues of discrimination and harassment in our schools.” After the election, teachers comforted students made fearful by campaign rhetoric. Students walked out of school to protest president-elect Donald Trump. The district also produced a fact sheet answering families’ immigration-related questions.

Isabella Bird Community School is one of several elementary schools in the growing Stapleton neighborhood. Named for a British explorer and author of A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, the school opened in the fall of 2013.

Last year, 20 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, which was below the district average of 69 percent. Thirty-seven percent of students were children of color.

In the fall of 2015, Isabella Bird Community School opened a DPS Newcomer Center that serves refugee students and others who are learning English.

Chalkbeat bureau chief Eric Gorski contributed to this report.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.