ORADELL, N.J. -- A swastika found scrawled on the wall of a boy's bathroom stall and a hateful message against Jews in a girl's bathroom stall at River Dell Regional High School in Oradell prompted an email to the community from the district superintendent, as well as reassurance from a local rabbi.
"While not immune, River Dell has largely escaped this type of behavior," Schools Supt. Patrick J. Fletcher wrote. "However, it is clear that the turmoil taking place in our society is now inside the walls of our buildings."
Fletcher, a 30-year veteran of education, said he was "saddened and outraged that I am writing this letter in 2017.
"This is not what I expect from our students or our community at large," he wrote. "However, that experience helps me to understand that the first response of the school community should be to calmly address the situation in the hope that the offender [in the second incident] comes forward of their own volition."
The swastika scrawler "came to school and admitted his actions" on Friday, the superintendent said. "Both the student and the student's family are fully cooperating with the district."
Fletcher said police were contacted and were investigating, as always, but that he also reached out to a local rabbi "who is providing counsel and will provide assistance when appropriate."
Rabbi Paul Jacobson, in turn, said that "we have reason to believe that these are isolated incidents, and incidents that were performed out of an absolute lack of judgment on the part of the perpetrator(s), not indicators of a widespread pandemic of anti-Semitism in the River Dell community.
"I am assured that the school district is taking every necessary step to address this matter appropriately and remains in ongoing consultation with the appropriate authorities," Jacobson added. "Our best strategy as a community is to rally behind the administration of our school district and allow them the space to address this matter effectively.
"I have offered the full support and resources of Temple Avodat Shalom to the River Dell School District, for purposes of education and further communal sensitivity. I will be reaching out to other clergy within River Dell to apprise them of this unfortunate episode," he wrote.
"This terrifies me," one parent told Daily Voice. "In this day and age you can't take any threat for granted."
In his letter, Fletcher cautioned against hasty judgments -- including that the student who took responsibility for the swastika could be the one who wrote the hateful message.
"Jumping to conclusions, especially in the age of social media, is never good," he wrote. "Anyone who indicates that they have all the information is incorrect simply because the investigation is ongoing.
"This behavior is not tolerated at River Dell. Even one incident is too many," Fletcher added. "At the same time, we must remember that there are young people in our care who make horrible mistakes that have enormous consequences.
"As the adults in the room, we must help those who make the mistakes and those affected by them," the superintendent wrote. "We must counsel our young people so their understanding grows and this type of behavior ceases.
"As a community, you can help by talking with your children about these two incidents. Help them understand the horrible meanings that words and symbols can have.
"Please encourage them to come forward if they are upset by this situation or have information that may help resolve it."