VESTAL — An incident in which Jewish students at Vestal High School were kicked by fellow students is being investigated by school officials, according to a parent, the local Jewish community and the school district.
“Apparently, there was an incident, or series of incidents, in which a number of students were involved in ‘kick a Jew day,’ in the Vestal school,” said Michael Wright, chairman of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Broome County.
Some students are facing disciplinary action, one parent said.
The parent, Gordon Gardner, said he got a telephone call this week from Mike Rotondi, assistant principal at Vestal High, who told him 37 students, including his 14-year-old son, could face suspensions because of the event.
His son has admitted taking part and should be punished, said Gardner, a Press & Sun-Bulletin employee. But he believes the event took place because of immaturity, not intolerance or maliciousness. Specifically, Rotondi told him the students were copying a prank inspired by the animated television show.
The episode, “Kick a Ginger Day,” first shown in 2005, was intended as a satirical comment on the stupidity of targeting certain groups. But, spread by Facebook and other social media, students in schools across the country picked up on the idea to hold their own “Kick a Ginger Day.” Students are invited via a widely circulated Facebook message to “kick a ginger” — a redhead — on a specific day.
“Kick a Ginger Day” has now apparently morphed into ‘kick a Jew day,” officials said. In November 2009, “kick a Jew day” at Naples Middle School in Florida made national news.
The Vestal event came to Wright’s attention after a parent and a local rabbi called him with reports about incidents that happened in early December.
Wright said he called school Superintendent Mark LaRoach, who assured him the situation was being taken seriously by officials and would not be tolerated.
According to reports he received, some students thought the Vestal event was done “in jest” and was “fun,” while others did not, Wright said.
“I have not the slightest indication that anyone was stomped or injured or it was anything beyond casual kicks,” he said.
Whatever the motivation, an event such as that cannot be tolerated or encouraged, Wright added.
Gardner said his son had no knowledge of the television episode, but said “kick a Jew day” was circulated through a Facebook message.
His son took part when a Jewish teammate on the wrestling team came up to him and said it was “kick a Jew day,” Gardner said.
“What my son did was wrong. I’m not objecting to a suspension,” he said.
Gardner added he was told that “kick a redhead” and “kick a blond” days have taken place at the school with no ramifications and school officials should not have tolerated these events.
Principal Catherine Hepler did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
LaRoach said bullying in any form is not tolerated by the school district. He confirmed that officials have been investigating “a form of bullying” at Vestal High for about six weeks, but would not specify who was targeted.
“We are taking this seriously and investigating thoroughly,” he said, adding students who took part will face consequences.
Gardner said he and his wife were told to be at the school at 8 a.m. Tuesday to meet with Hepler and school officials.
“We are aware of it (the incident) and are working with school officials to help resolve the issue,” said Sima Auerbach, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Broome County. That may include an educational program at the school, she said.
Wright said he understands that Broome County Interfaith clergy have arranged a meeting for Jan. 28 with Hepler, LaRoach and members of the clergy to discuss the issue of intolerance in schools.