Panther Press

Wallingford-Swarthmore, Post-Letter

Two months have passed since the incident that rattled the community to its core. However, the ghost of the racist letter continues to silently haunt Wallingford-Swarthmore.

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Wallingford-Swarthmore, Post-Letter

Maddie Marks, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Shock, anger, and sadness. These are three of the many emotions that settled upon the Wallingford- Swarthmore School District and surrounding community the week of December 17, 2018. Surfacing from the social media landscape of the area came two appalling displays of racism and hatred: the first being a picture of a note addressed to “non U.S. citizens” and the second being a picture of two figures in what appear to be makeshift Ku Klux Klan hoods.

According to Nether Providence Police Chief David Splain, the Police Department became aware of the note on Monday, December 17, at which point the investigation began.

As of the most recent reports made public by the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, the investigation has been handed off to the Delaware County District Attorney, Katayoun M. Copeland. There are currently ten detectives working on the case under her supervision.

On December 19, 2018, students held a walkout to protest the lack of discipline from administration to the individuals behind the letter. On December 21, 2018, Dr. Brown addressed the situation via a video shown to all Haven students and staff; in it, he explained that this type of hatred is not acceptable in the community. Later in the day, students were invited to an optional forum in the auditorium to express their thoughts and emotions. On January 2, 2019, the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District hosted an evening meeting to hear concerns about the issue, present the facts of the case, and take questions. Formally, the situation was mediated.

But on January 3, 2019, the district and its surrounding area woke up tasked with a challenge that would prove to be almost more difficult than the events leading up to it. Wallingford-Swarthmore would have to not only live with what had happened, but continue to function and thrive as a community in the wake of it.

 

Two months have passed since the letter and the photograph surfaced, and many students believe that the time has diluted the issue significantly.

“The situation is over,” said senior Mei-Belle Sun. “People have moved on.” In contrast with the tumultuous week of December 17, Wallingford-Swarthmore has since settled back into its normal, peaceful routine. Sophomore Maria Andraos added that “The whole thing has sort of blown over. … No one really talks about it anymore.”

It is undeniable that the school and community have gone practically silent about the issue. Many were wary about the return to school from winter break, which fell the week after the height of the incident. However, hardly a word of it was whispered, causing the community to wonder how the issue slipped out of minds so easily.

“I think winter break was pretty well-timed in that it gave everybody a chance to sort of breathe,” said visual communications teacher Ms. Kate Plows.

Sun agreed that winter break served as a decompression period. “I was mad at first, like most people, but mostly I was shocked that something like this would happen in Wallingford of all places,” said Sun. “But as time passed, I’ve come to accept that things like this will really happen anywhere.” Understandably, when the time came to return to school, everyone had absorbed the events and came to terms with the circumstances in their minds, like Sun did.

 

Rationality seemed to be the element amiss in most minds when the incident first came to light. Information and with it, fury and despair spread across the community. Students were and are outraged about the situation. However, the passion and anger in combination with the freedom and accessibility of information-spreading by social media resulted in panic and chaos that consumed the community. Some believe this explosive reaction only added to the situation. “I think before, it was way too blown up in our school,” said Andraos. “That was mostly by the students.”

English teacher Mr. Matthew Wood spoke on this issue, saying: “My initial reaction was disappointment. But also, I wanted to have reservation and wait until the facts of what was being put out there were established.” He went on to say, “Having been teaching in public schools for over a quarter of a century and living much longer than that, you gather that the first version of the story that you hear is often not the correct story.”

By the end of the week of December 17, reacting to the incident had become a balancing act. With hardly any information other than what was spread through word of mouth, the community had to decide how to feel, what exactly to have feelings about, who to direct those feelings towards, and how to express those feelings.

Clashes soon ensued between information-holders. Students and parents went up against administration. Those who sought the truth faced off with those complacent with reacting to rumors. The people who thought of the situation as a joke conflicted with the school’s activists.

However, after winter break, the administration formally addressed the situation and provided the truth. The battle of the information-holders ended because everyone had the exact same information. As a result, many community members found that the anger that comprised their initial reaction diminished; instead, what is left is an invisible buzz of discontent hidden beneath the surface of Wallingford- Swarthmore.

Some students took issue with the way this discontentment was being addressed; to some, the administration almost seemed dismissive of it. “They were expecting people to move on as if the problem had been resolved,” said senior Ruth Tilis. “It seems the attitude is just that people are trying to move on and protect Haven’s reputation rather than realizing there is something wrong with this community.”

Every place you look in all five of the district’s schools, love and acceptance is unwavering. Respect statements are hung in every classroom, quotes from civil rights leaders are painted on the walls, and multiple clubs exist dedicated to equality for all. But during the time of the incident, many people, especially students, took on the daunting responsibility of looking into the depths of the community that were not plastered colorfully on the walls.

“Nobody knows what goes on inside of this school,” said sophomore Kiara Davis during the walkout. Tilis echoed this sentiment after the meeting on January 2, saying “[One] thing I found frustrating is that people think, ‘this isn’t Strath Haven,’ and act as if it is an inclusive community. It’s not.” One of the points of motivation for the community during this time has been refusing to let this incident represent Wallingford-Swarthmore. But many students believe the only way to ensure that issues like this never arise again is to acknowledge that this incident does represent Wallingford-Swarthmore. Sophomore Will Garrett said, “This is a community that claims tolerance and understanding yet has allowed instances like this to take place. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m sure this was not the first time something like this has happened. But hopefully it’s the last time.”

Many in the community agree with Garrett: hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again. But senior and Student Council President Andrew Spangler believes that the most important action coming out of this situation is not to forget it happened. “The best thing the school can do is promote having discussions about difficult topics so that people can be more aware of things that may not affect them directly,” he said. “We need to make sure that communication is open. That should be a goal for everyone to bring our school community closer together.”

Many voices in the community believe that Wallingford-Swarthmore must engage in a self-reflection in order to prevent such immense hatred from infiltrating and uprooting the community again.

 

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The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.