NEWBURYPORT — School officials are investigating an alleged anti-Semitic act involving a Newburyport High School student performing the Nazi salute Wednesday while standing near two Jewish students during the school's annual Ivy Day event.
Maxwell Foltz, a junior, said the student also altered lyrics to "All Hail to Our Alma Mater," the school's official song, from "All hail to the glorious future" to "All hail to the glorious Fuhrer," a reference to Adolf Hitler.
Ivy Day, which has been celebrated at the school for decades, involves the senior class planting a sprig of ivy inside the school's courtyard to symbolize their time at the school. The trowel used to plant the ivy is then given to a member of the junior class to symbolize the passing of the torch.
Following the ceremony, Foltz said he reported the incidents to school officials who he described as empathetic and responsive to his complaint. They told Foltz they would speak to that student.
Foltz said he was momentarily shaken up by the incident before feeling angry, and then sad.
"It took me so off guard because I didn't expect it," Foltz said. "I'm not exactly sure if it was directed at us in a malicious way, but he does know the two of us are Jewish."
School Superintendent Sean Gallagher confirmed that Wednesday a high school student reported anti-Semitic behavior to school officials, but stopped short of saying it actually happened.
"I can't confirm that right now because we're still in investigative mode," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said it is district policy to investigate every reported instance of racially or religiously motivated language. In this instance it appears the alleged incident took place within a crowd of up to 600 students.
"They're following up on what was reported to them today," Gallagher said. "We just follow through with any of those complaints or allegations made."
He went on to say the district has a zero-tolerance policy regarding anti-Semitic language or acts.
"Especially in today's day and age, words matter and can have a negative impact not only in school but in society," Gallagher said, adding that he can't recall any other reports of anti-Semitic behavior during the school year.
In an email, Foltz said anti-Semitic comments have been part of his Newburyport High School experience and it was about time the community at large was informed.
"This has been a breaking point for me and many other Jewish students in the school that for years have felt uncomfortable at various 'jokes' and gestures like at this event," Foltz stated.
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