Minor charged in hate and bias incident


Molly Heintze

A swastika was found in one of PV’s boys bathrooms upstairs in September, and, consequently it was closed for investigation. After a string of hate and bias incidents at PV, a minor was charged and is being held responsible for at least one of the incidents.

A minor was recently found responsible for at least one of the hate and bias incidents at Pascack Valley High School and has been charged by the Hillsdale Police Department, according to an email sent to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District community by PVRHSD Superintendent Erik Gundersen on Monday, March 4, at 10 a.m.

According to PV’s School Resource Officer German Decena, a suspect was found between the end of January and beginning of February from interviewing and security footage.

Smoke Signal reporters, after repeated attempts for someone to comment from the Hillsdale Police Department, were told by Detective Sgt. Adam Hampton the investigation into these incidents was still active as of Feb. 27. Gundersen confirmed this in an email correspondence on Sunday, March 3.

“The district has taken disciplinary action, but it is not at liberty to share the details due to privacy rights,” Gundersen said in the email March 3 email correspondence. “The investigation is still open and active.”

The March 4 email also states that in upcoming weeks, a School Climate Survey will be distributed to all students, staff, and parents in the district to assess the perceptions of “diversity, bias behavior, and general school climate.”

In addition to the survey, Unity in the Valley will hold its kick-off event on March 19 which will include performances by PVRHSD students, a presentation from the Anti-Defamation League, and a presentation from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. Unity in the Valley is “comprised of a group of community leaders in the Pascack Valley area, united in their opposition to all forms of hate and aggression towards any group or individual.”  

The Smoke Signal broke the news on Nov. 6, 2018, that “two isolated incidents” of anti-Semitic defacements were found on Sept. 27 in the second floor boys bathroom and on Oct. 18, 2018, in the boys cafeteria bathroom. The second floor boys bathroom was closed until a new stall partition replaced the defaced one.

In a Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education meeting on Nov. 5, 2018, Superintendent Erik Gundersen said that “The reason why it was locked is because [the district doesn’t want] to subject students to that type of imagery — we don’t want them to see that type of symbolism.”

A day after the BOE meeting, three additional anti-Semitic symbols were identified and the areas were immediately closed to the public.

Days after it was made public that five swastikas were found in PV, a Smoke Signal staffer pointed out to administrators on Nov. 12, 2018, that hate speech was etched onto plaques commemorating former standout PV baseball players behind the third base dugout. The plaques were removed on Nov. 14, 2018, and the Hillsdale Police Department launched an investigation into the incident.

PV’s Executive Council hosted an open forum to discuss possible solutions to the anti-Semitic incidents in the school on Nov. 15, 2018. The Executive Council led a “Movement of Unity” on Nov. 21, at 8:45 a.m. among the student body to “let this tragic event in Valley be a learning experience,” according to Executive Council President Ryan Novakowski.

At PV’s sister school, Pascack Hills, several swastikas and a racial slur were etched into the walls of a boys bathroom on Nov. 30. The bathroom was shut down, the graffiti was removed, and the Montvale Police Department began an investigation.

A swastika was found in a third floor boys bathroom at George G. White Middle School of Hillsdale, a funnel school to PV, on Dec. 4. The Hillsdale Police Department was notified to report the incident as a hate crime and George G. White Middle School began conducting its own investigation.