Amid community outrage after social media images appeared to show area high school students at a weekend party saluting a swastika assembled from red plastic cups, campus reactions Monday ranged from shock to unsurprised, though the actions were roundly condemned.
A community meeting about the incident was held Monday evening at Newport Harbor High School, which many of the students at the party attend.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District said it is investigating the images, posted on various social media, which also show the teenagers smiling, laughing and toasting over the swastika, which appeared to be used in a drinking game.
Students from Costa Mesa High and Estancia High, also in Costa Mesa, said Monday that students from both of those schools also were present.
“While these actions did not occur on any school campus or school function, we condemn all acts of anti-Semitism and hate in all their forms,” Newport-Mesa Supt. Fred Navarro said in a statement.
But Jocelyn Navarro, a junior at Newport Harbor in Newport Beach, said Monday that she wasn’t surprised when the photos surfaced Sunday morning.
At Newport Harbor, she said, students group themselves along racial lines: Hispanic students with other Hispanics, whites with whites. It is less intentional than unconscious, she said.
“White people stay together, Mexicans stay together. We naturally just do it because we know that’s the way it is,” she said.
One student who posted a photo of the swastika surrounded by students told another student in an online conversation that “you are stupid if you think we actually support what Hitler did. It was a joke. None of us are … Nazi supporters.”
Parents of two students identified as being involved in the party declined to comment Monday.
Bianca Lutz, a 16-year-old Newport Harbor student who was not at the gathering, said she was “extremely disturbed by the ignorance of those at the party” and said some of her Jewish friends felt threatened.
Newport-Mesa spokeswoman Adriana Angulo said the district is working with the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police departments on the investigation but didn’t provide details. She said district officials don’t know what their next course of action might be or what punishments could be meted out.
The party, which apparently took place over the weekend, occurred in Costa Mesa, according to Newport Beach police spokeswoman Heather Rangel.
On Monday, Newport Harbor students poured out of school buildings wearing every shade of blue as an act of solidarity with the Jewish community.
“I’m very glad that we are all making a statement that the vast majority of us believe that this is disgusting,” senior Sam Quattrociocchi said during lunch. “Some people at the party thought they were making an edgy joke, and they were completely wrong.”
Fellow senior Timothy Shannon said “most people are trying to figure out ways to better ourselves out of it.”
In Costa Mesa, the mother of two students who went to the party said she was “very upset” about their presence. The woman, who declined to give her name, said she wasn’t aware there was a planned gathering of teenagers and that alcohol would be served.
“The kids go out with their friends all the time. I’ve never seen my kids drink. I’ve never seen them drunk,” she said Monday.
Her children spent last weekend with her former husband and she did not hear about the party, where it was held or the swastika incident until Sunday, she said.
She said her anger and sadness stem from the fact that she is Jewish, along with her family members.
Antonio Fair, a junior at Costa Mesa High, said: “I feel like they just did something stupid and sure it is offensive to a lot of people. But I feel that it shouldn’t be as big of a deal only because we’re still young. I feel like if they didn’t get drunk or if they didn’t smoke, then they wouldn’t have done something that stupid.
“I think there should still be consequences but that shouldn’t stick with them for the rest of their life. It shouldn’t define who they are, because we’re still in high school.”
Images from the party roiled social media users, who were quick to condemn them.
“As an organization dedicated to representing the students of Newport Harbor High School, we and the school administration denounce and condemn all acts of anti-Semitism and hate in any form,” representatives of the school’s Associated Student Body said in a statement on Instagram. “Any negativity due to any type of persecution is utterly wrong, unacceptable and will not be tolerated. ... With all of the bad out there, we encourage everyone to turn to goodness, kindness and respect over hatred.”
Newport Harbor Principal Sean Boulton said in a statement that Monday’s community meeting at the school was to include him, Costa Mesa High Principal Jacob Haley, Estancia High Principal Michael Halt and Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life.
“The goal of the event is to start a significant conversation to take us to a place where this sort of behavior never happens again in our community,” Boulton said. “Over the past few years, all Newport-Mesa schools have worked tirelessly to eliminate prejudice, hate and bullying and continually work toward true tolerance and equality. We are obviously not there yet, but the journey continues.
“Diversity is the backbone of our schools, but in this social and social media climate, we are subject to hate, offensive acts/language and religious intolerance. We must and can do more.”
Rabbi Gersh Zylberman of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach said in a statement that a town hall meeting is tentatively set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Corona del Mar High School to discuss the incident.
“This is a reminder that we must respond to all incidents of anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms with the utmost seriousness and unequivocal condemnation,” Zylberman said.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not they thought it was funny. When we joke about Nazism, its history loses meaning — and we cannot forget that history,” U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) said in a statement. “These students must learn that hate has consequences, and their parents and our school district must redouble their efforts to teach them.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, a former Newport-Mesa Unified trustee, said in a statement that “we need to seriously address why teens in our community might think these types of hateful symbols are acceptable or funny and worthy of selfies. We must use this incident as an opportunity to work with our school district leaders to encourage schools to implement better anti-bias and anti-hate content in their curricula and extracurricular activities.”
Josdel Hernandez, a Newport Harbor junior, said students just last month studied the Holocaust in history class.
“They showed us graphic videos of the concentration camps,” she said. “It’s not like our teachers need to show us any more about the Holocaust. They knew what it means.”
She said she’s seen incidents of more casual racism at school: a student doodling a swastika on a desk, for example, or cracking a joke about Nazism.
Quattrociocchi said “the real problem is that a lot of real neo-Nazis and racists are coming away being emboldened by this.”
“I think the most unfortunate thing is that people are suddenly feeling comfortable spewing racist garbage,” he said.
Josdel and Jocelyn said students who condemned the Nazi displays faced a backlash on social media from party-goers who questioned why people not of Jewish heritage were upset.
“They said, ‘You’re not even Jewish — why are you getting all offended?’” Jocelyn said. “We don’t have to be Jewish to be offended. We’re offended because it’s wrong.”
On Monday morning at Costa Mesa High, Haley spoke to the school via the public address system, saying he was “disappointed” that some of his students were at the party.
Freshman Maria Ramirez said she was “kind of shocked that this happened because people need to take responsibility for their actions. Why would you get into that kind of stuff if you knew what these things mean?”
Kevin Sanchez, a sophomore who transferred to Costa Mesa High last month from Newport Harbor, said he worries about how much freedom teenagers are given today: “Parents or adults can’t tell them what to do basically, and they don’t realize how they act reflects on the whole school.”
Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill said in a joint statement that they were “appalled and saddened” by the incident and that it was “not acceptable and not reflective of our community’s collective character.”
“This behavior is not learned in our schools,” the statement said. “But once learned — wherever and however it is — anti-Semitism can and must be unlearned through education and dialogue.”
Navarro said district officials “remain focused on educating students on all aspects of life’s challenges and are committed to holding students accountable, educating them on the consequences of their choices and the impact these actions have on our schools and community at large. We are asking that parents please partner with us in helping students make good decisions, be respectful of others and to always use good judgment.”
State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) announced Monday that she will convene an interfaith town hall from 1 to 3:30 p.m. March 30 at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine “for a conversation about how we can come together to battle hate and foster respect.”
State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) also expressed “condemnation of any and all anti-Semitic acts, and again emphasize my solidarity with the Jewish community in Orange County and elsewhere.”
Lilly Nguyen and Julia Sclafani are Daily Pilot staff writers. Matthew Ormseth and Anh Do write for the Los Angeles Times.