Fairfield Prep principal ‘upset’ by anti-Semitism, SCC to take no action
FAIRFIELD — Religious leaders, members of the Anti-Defamation League and Fairfield College Preparatory School leaders are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss anti-Semitic taunting by Prep fans at a playoff lacrosse game in Westport last week.
“We’ve had lots of leaders in Westport reach out, as well as the father (Rev. Thomas M. Simisky) at Fairfield Prep,” said Andy Friedland, assistant director at the Anti-Defamation League’s Connecticut Regional Office. “We’re going to be meeting with the school and with local rabbis to discuss different kinds of of programming and education we offer in response to incidents like this.”
According to witnesses at the May 30 game in Westport, at which Prep won by a goal in overtime, fans seated in the Prep student section, known collectively as the “Bomb Squad,” chanted “Happy Hanukkah” and “We have Christmas” and sang “the Dreidel Song,” directed at Jewish players on the Staples High School roster. They held vulgar signs and allegedly urinated on cars in the parking lot and on the school building.
The allegations hung heavily over Sunday’s Fairfield Prep commencement.
“I will not attempt to infer the motives of those involved. Whether those actions were intended to be hateful, ignorant or otherwise, the results are the same: Hurtful, divisive and insidiously harmful to all that is good in the world,” Simisky said in his commencement speech at Fairfield Prep’s graduation ceremony Sunday. “I cannot tell you how disappointed and upset I was to learn of this, especially given the many initiatives this year to address race, equity and inclusion issues.”
Despite the allegations, the Southern Connecticut Conference, the interscholastic league in which Prep plays, is not planning to take disciplinary action against the school and its teams.
“I know, and (am) very confident that the Fairfield Prep administration is handling the situation,” SCC Commissioner Al Carbone said.
According to Simisky’s address, Prep is investigating and will issue out “appropriate discipline” to those involved. Simisky said the incident and anti-Semitism will be addressed during the final two class days of the year and that better education on diversity will be built into next year’s curriculum. According to a Fairfield Prep representative, apologies were issued to both the Staples principal and athletic director. Aside from a letter home to parents on Thursday and a letter sent to the Prep community on Sunday, Fairfield Prep administrators have declined to comment further.
“Last Wednesday, our lacrosse team advanced, but we as a whole experienced a collective, self-inflicted loss. It was a loss in many ways. That a few students led such cheers was a loss. That more students followed their lead was a loss. That no one stopped this behavior was unthinkable. Student government leaders were there, team captains were there, seniors were there, prep students from all years were there,” Simisky said. “Why did no student stand up for what was right? For what we teach?”
According to Carbone, the SCC had received no previous complaints about Fairfield Prep’s fans. But this appears not to be an isolated incident for Prep.
In 2011, Fairfield Prep’s “Bomb Squad” was suspended due to unruly behavior at hockey games. In 2014, Fairfield Prep fans allegedly threw water on the court during a playoff basketball game against Bridgeport Central. After losing the game, Prep players were said to leave the court before receiving their runner-up medals, then, in the locker room, dumped food provided to them by Mohegan Sun on the floor.
Other area schools have made similar headlines. Wilton High School had to apologize on behalf of fans who, during a 2016 game against Danbury High School, chanted “build the wall,” directed at Danbury’s diverse student body. In the same year, a Snapchat video depicted a Fairfield Ludlowe student at a soccer game against crosstown rivals Warde using a racial slur directed at black students. Also in 2016, Greenwich High School’s football team made headlines after shouting “Hitler” as they ran onto the field, referencing an inappropriately named play they were about to run.
“Incidents happen in just about every school in the state. It’s not a question of if something like this is going to happen, it’s a question of how do you respond when it does,” Friedland said.
According to Friedland and ADL statistics, there were 1,986 reported anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, an increase of 60 percent from 2016 to 2017. In Connecticut, the number of incidents has increased steadily over the past three years, from 18 in 2015, to 45 in 2016, to 49 in 2017.
“We’ve seen a rise in incidents across the board over the last couple years. I think there’s been a coarsening of our national political dialogue and I think it’s filtered down tokids in schools,” Friedland said, though he cautioned that a large number of anti-Semitic incidents likely go unreported.
Simisky said there had been speakers at Fairfield Prep over the course of the year to speak on diversity and tolerance and faculty development days to promote the creation of “safe spaces.” A club called Respect Education and Inclusion for Gay and Non-binary Students was formed this year. But, Simisky said, the year will be marked by this one incident.
“As the president of Fairfield Prep, I take responsibility for our collective failure. We as administrators did not provide adequate supervision at a sporting event, but this goes beyond prefecting,” Simisky said. “In the end, we failed to live out the values we profess. That such behavior could even seem like a good idea to some and that no one would intervene indicates a larger cultural issue that we must confront.”
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