Following at least four reports of vandalism and harassment at Council Rock North High School, the Lower Bucks community came together for a vigil to promote tolerance and unity.
The candlelight vigil, held on Thursday night at the Garden of Reflection in Lower Makefield, was organized by state Rep. Steve Santarsiero, a former candidate for the 8th District Congressional seat, and community organizations.
“We want to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again,” Santarsiero told the Times as hundreds of locals were filling the memorial before the event.
The vandalism at the school came in the days after the presidential election. Superintendent Robert Fraser sent out an email statement detailing the incidents.
According to Fraser, someone wrote “I Love Trump,” a derogatory comment about homosexuals, and drew three swastikas on a piece of paper hung in one of the girls restrooms. In another, someone wrote, “If Trump wins, watch out!” onto a toilet paper dispenser. In a boys restroom, two swastikas were drawn onto a stall.
In addition to the bathroom vandalism, a Latina student found a note in her backpack telling her to return to Mexico, and there was another report of “inappropriate comments” being made to Latino students.
The incidents were picked up by national media outlets, reported alongside similar occurrences in schools across the nation.
“We are better than this, and ours is a community that must be based upon a mutual respect for ALL people, and ALL of Council Rock,” Fraser’s statement read.
The vigil opened with a performance of the national anthem by the Council Rock North Voice choir, and a medley of other patriotic songs.
People held candles and signs that read “No Place For Hate” as speakers addressed the crowd, including Santarsiero, state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, the Rev. Sandra Reed of St. Mark AME Zion Church, Rabbi Joel Simmons of Congregation Shir Ami, and Barbara Simmons and Gayle Evans of the Peace Center.
“I am asking you, if you are committed to stopping racism in its tracks and beginning today, that you show up, that you speak up and that you stand up and do not allow hate to control this community,” Evans said.
But the most impassioned words came from Council Rock North senior Mason Luff.
“In this community, many have been quick to detest Council Rock North as a school rampant with bigotry, as a place where uniqueness is not accepted. This is not the case,” Luff said. “The hate that we approach today is not simply a Council Rock problem, it is not simply a high school problem.”
He quoted his social studies teacher Derek Wright, saying, “Hatred is a human problem.”
Luff spoke of the importance of the school organizing dialogues with the students on tolerance and acceptance. Parents, too, were given the opportunity to speak with the administration about their concerns on meetings held Monday and Tuesday night.
“I truly don’t know why this specific manifestation of hatred finally opened the discussion that now controls my school,” Luff said. “But I am glad that it has.”
Luff delivered a similar speech to his classmates earlier this week, calling for schoolwide change, repeatedly saying, “the hate stops now,” and called hate “a contagion nurtured by indifference.”
“The messages that few create in fear on the bathroom walls do not define us,” Luff continued. “They hurt the people that they target, and they hurt everyone who watches the victimization of their peers.”
Though it was not a partisan event, Santarsiero did address the nationwide rancor that stemmed from the rhetoric and divisiveness of the presidential election.
“Whether we wanted to Make America Great Again or believed that we were Stronger Together, it is the immediate aftermath of that election that is our business tonight,” he said. “We gather here tonight to say in a clear and uncompromising voice that we will not abide acts of hate no matter what form they may take and no matter what group they may target.” ••