A photo circulated on social media last week showing two Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students making Nazi hand gestures. The photo was captured off campus during one of the district’s snow days in February.
Upon learning of the situation, the school district launched an investigation.
“We are deeply disturbed and saddened by these images,” a district press release said. “Although it did not occur on campus, there is no place on Mercer Island for this type of anti-Semitism or hate speech in any form. We are working with our high school students to ensure that they understand the impact of their actions on our community.”
Mercer Island School District (MISD) Superintendent Donna Colosky and MIHS principal Vicki Puckett released a letter to families about the photo.
They said although the conduct occurred off campus, “the images were ultimately shared with MIHS students. The sharing of these images brought these off-campus student actions into the school and negatively impacted our educational environment.”
Colosky and Puckett said the investigation so far reveals that the shared images “were not created or shared with malicious intent toward others.”
However, “these images are highly offensive and hurtful,” they said in the letter.
In response to the shared photo, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Pacific Northwest Region said they were “deeply troubled” to learn of the incident.
“Unfortunately, incidents of hate, anti-Semitism, bullying, and racism are occurring with greater frequency in many schools and communities,” according to a release. “The measure of any institution is not whether these incidents occur, but how they respond. To this end, we commend Mercer Island High School, the school district administration, and faculty in their efforts to take this issue seriously and address this issue expeditiously.”
The two students in the photo released a prepared statement in regard to the incident. The names of the students have been withheld. According to the students, the photo was captured during one of the snow days in February and they “were hanging out with friends at the lid park.”
“One of us had hair that was wet from the snow that was parted and slicked down. Kids started saying he looked like Hitler and shouting ‘pose.’ We lifted our arms in the air for two seconds and someone took a photo of us that we really regret. This was a mistake and we want to make it clear that we do not think Hitler is funny and do not agree with his views. We realize this mistake was offensive and never meant for that to happen,” the students said in the statement.
The students acknowledge that what they did was “completely insensitive and we did not consider the impact it could have on others. It was stupid and thoughtless.”
“We weren’t thinking about what it represented in the moment, and now people are feeling scared and are in pain,” the students said in the statement. “We would never intentionally hurt friends and family, or anyone else. We are both so sorry. What we did was wrong.”
The students said they want “every teen on the Island to learn from our mistakes.”
“If you see something that doesn’t feel right then be brave and say something. It is not an easy thing to do, but hopefully more people will do it,” the students said in the statement.
“For the last week, we have talked with many people in the Jewish community along with the Holocaust Center and have learned that Jewish people experience all kinds of harsh comments about their religion and faith. It is important that we as a community are more sensitive to this. We also learned how important it is to be an up-stander, not a bystander that ignores things that are wrong,” they said. “This is our home and we have the next four years of high school to be leaders and make a positive difference in our school and community.”
MIHS will work directly with the students and families involved to address the misconduct, ensure accountability and support the healing of the school community, it said. There are district and Mercer Island Youth and Family Services resources available to any students in need of support.