Race

Every Racist and Anti-Semitic Incident Documented in Florida Schools in the Past Year

After Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil-rights advocacy group, documented a surge of incidents involving racial slurs and symbols in schools across the nation — a phenomenon that became known as the "Trump Effect," owing to the fact that the students appeared to mirror racist and xenophobic language Trump used on the campaign trail.

Although hate crimes in Florida appear to have been on the decline in recent years (some have speculated such incidents are being underreported), FBI data shows that gender, gender identity, and disability-based hate crimes have increased nationwide by a whopping 509 percent since 2011.

Even if the national data documenting hate crimes is unreliable, it seems, at least anecdotally, that they're on the rise, especially in Florida schools. This comes as the state's so-called Stop WOKE Act bans educators from broaching certain topics about race on the basis of preventing white students from feeling "shame."

Relying on local news stories and information from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), New Times compiled a list of 12 documented racist and anti-Semitic incidents in Florida schools and universities in the past year.

From hate symbols to racial slurs to Nazi costumes, here is a reverse timeline going back to May 2021.

(If you know of other alleged hate incidents that took place at a Florida school or university that are missing from this list, please contact us via [email protected].)

Racist Stunt in Martin County (May 2022)

A photo surfaced online showing six students at Hidden Oaks Middle School near Port St. Lucie, each holding up a large handmade letter so as to spell out "N-I-G-G-E-R." One of the letters appeared to be colored to look like a watermelon, while another was colored blood-red. The Martin County School District promised a "swift" investigation of the incident, which doesn't appear to involve local police.

While the students involved have been identified, neither their names nor the consequences they face will be publicly released owing to federal privacy laws.

Middle School Bathroom Swastikas in Parkland (May 2022)

A sixth-grader at Westglades Middle School in Parkland walked into a school bathroom one day to find a swastika drawn on the wall. The Broward County Sheriff's Office was reportedly informed, though it's unclear whether police or the Broward County School District ever launched an investigation into the incident.

"The school regrets that such an incident took place on its campus, as it places great emphasis on creating an environment of acceptance and tolerance for the entire school community," John J. Sullivan, chief communications officer for Broward County Public Schools, wrote in a statement following the incident.

High School Bathroom Swastikas in Davie (May 2022)

Twice in one week, swastikas were discovered on the walls of a bathroom at Western High School in Davie. It remains unclear who was responsible for the incidents, which are currently under investigation by the Broward County School District and the Davie Police Department.

"Any individual found involved will face appropriate disciplinary consequences. Broward County Public Schools does not tolerate displays of bigotry and hate and is committed to educating students about the profound impact of bias," the school district wrote in a statement.

Anti-Semitic Flyer on FIU Campus (April 2022)

An anti-Semitic flyer was found on Florida International University's (FIU) Modesto Maidique Campus in West Miami-Dade. The flyer bore the headline "EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE COVID AGENDA IS JEWISH — the same message found on flyers strewn on the streets of Miami Beach and neighboring Surfside in January.

The flyer alleged a Jewish COVID-19 conspiracy and listed more than a dozen people who are purportedly Jewish and work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other COVID-adjacent fields. The flyers are believed to be the work of the Goyim Defense League, a "loose network" of anti-Semites and white supremacists with members in Florida, New York, California, and Colorado, according to the ADL.

While FIU police said the agency was investigating the incident, it's unclear whether any crime took place. Attorneys who specialize in free speech and First Amendment issues told New Times earlier this year that such flyers almost certainly fall under the First Amendment — regardless of how offensive they might be.

Swastika Hazing at the University of South Florida (February 2022)

The University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa acknowledged several alleged anti-Semitic and racist incidents involving its students, including an anti-Semitic post on social media by a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity minimizing the Holocaust and reports of a Jewish member of the same fraternity having a swastika drawn on his body during initiation activities.

USF reportedly launched an investigation into the alleged incidents and temporarily suspended Pi Kappa Phi, barring the frat from holding events pending a hearing. The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg invited the fraternity to tour the museum and to meet with a Holocaust survivor following the museum. It's unclear whether Pi Kappa Phi accepted the museum's offer; the Tampa Bay Times reported that the chapter president "sounded receptive" to the idea at the time.

String of Racist Acts at St. Pete Catholic High School (January 2022)

At St. Pete Catholic High School in St. Petersburg, over a span of several weeks, the phrase "kill all niggers" was scribbled on the walls of a bathroom stall and the same racial slur was later found written on the bleachers in the gym. Following those discoveries, students came forward to report other racist incidents, including one in which a Black student was allegedly called a "slave" and another alleging that a dean referred to Black students as "hoodlums."

Local NAACP leaders swiftly called for the removal of the school's dean, Ronald Rhoads, and the school launched an independent investigation into the threatening graffiti and claims of racism. The probe concluded in late April and recommended that the school improve its procedures for handling potential threats and to discipline Rhoads.

Substitute's Racial Slurs in Pinellas County (January 2022)

After reportedly yelling a racial slur several times while teaching at at Lealman Innovation Academy, white substitute teacher Karen Boettge resigned from her job at the Pinellas County public school for personalized learning.

It's unclear which slur the 59-year-old educator used. According to a Tampa Bay Times report, the principal reported Boettge to the human resources department at the school, whose enrollment is 75 percent Black, and immediately placed her on a "do-not-use" list.

Anti-Semitic and Racist Graffiti in Boca Raton (December 2021)

Swastikas and the n-word were scribbled on the bathroom wall at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton. The Palm Beach County School District said it was investigating the incident, and the high school's principal Kelly Burke told parents in an emailed statement that school police were looking for who was responsible.

"The District takes a strict stance regarding combating antisemitic activity and is committed to educating our students regarding this horrific watershed event in history," Burke wrote.

Racist Water Fountain Graffiti in Marathon (November 2021)

A Marathon High School football player was disciplined after reportedly labeling locker room water fountains "white" and "colored" in an apparent reference to racial segregation. A Keys Weekly report noted that the same student also allegedly called a fellow student racial slurs on Snapchat.

The Monroe County School District said it was investigating the water-fountain incident, which it said did not meet the threshold of a hate crime. "The incident at Marathon High School was very serious and after investigation, the student received an appropriate serious consequence," the district wrote in a statement.

Boca Raton High Schoolers Imitate Nazis (November 2021)

A video surfaced of Palm Beach County high school students dressed in Nazi uniforms and shouting the Nazi greeting "Sieg Heil" in what appears to be a residential living room. One clip showed a student performing the Nazi salute with one hand while holding a red Solo cup in the other.

The participants were said to be students at either Olympic Heights High School or Spanish River High School. Olympic Heights principal Kelly Burke said the district was investigating the incident, calling it "egregious" and "highly offensive," adding that the high school would host a Holocaust survivor in the coming weeks "as part of the school’s ongoing commitment to Holocaust education."

Racist Snapchat Video by Yulee High School Students (October 2021)

Two white students at Yulee High School near Jacksonville recorded a Snapchat video of themselves saying the n-word. One of them was wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style white hood.

According to the Nassau County School District, the video was sent to a group of Black students who then confronted the students in the video, leading to a physical altercation. The student who shared the video and the Black students who confronted the students in the video were reportedly reprimanded and suspended for five days. According to a Daily Beast report, the district didn't discipline the students who appeared in the video.

Swastikas and Slurs in Winter Park High Bathroom (September 2021)

Homophobic and racist slurs and swastikas were found scrawled across the walls of a bathroom at Winter Park High, a public high school near Orlando. Winter Park police said they were investigating the incident, and school officials said the person responsible was identified and "will be reprimanded."

In a now-deleted YouTube video following the incident, school principal Matthew Arnold said that he would be addressing those responsible and vaguely referenced "a few students who have made very poor decisions" — upsetting parents by never actually stating what happened.

Black Student Called Racist Slur in Florida Keys (May 2021)

A 13-year-old girl reportedly entered the cafeteria at Sugarloaf School, a PK-8 public school in Summerland Key, when a boy pointed at her and said, "Look at that nigger." The girl reported that students had also drawn racist caricatures of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis a year earlier, on a school chalkboard.

The Monroe County School District announced that it was investigating the incidents. The teen who was targeted began attending school remotely following the incident. "She’s not going back after today,” her mother told the Miami Herald. "You’re talking about a straight-A student who has to stay home now because of this."

If you know of other alleged hate incidents that took place at a Florida school or university that are missing from this list, please contact us via [email protected].
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca