Garden Grove Unified School District officials Tuesday announced they were reopening their investigation of a group of Pacifica High School students who did a Nazi salute during an off-campus event, a day after video of the incident surfaced and caused a furor on social media.
Garden Grove police, meanwhile, are investigating a handful of death threats directed at the high school, Garden Grove police Lt. Carl Whitney said. The death threats prompted police to send a half-dozen officers to the school district’s board meeting Tuesday night, he added.
“We have several officers going to the board meeting tonight for protection in case of any serious threats,” Whitney said.
The Nazi-saluting students in the video, which was made in November, were singing a German song, “Erika,” according to the school district. Peter Levi, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County, said it was such an obscure song he did not recognize it.
Anyone willing to dig for an obscure song, learn it and then teach their friends it could be vulnerable to “being radicalized” by white supremacists, Levi said.
The students were at a “banquet facility prior to the start of a school event involving larger groups of students, parents and staff, who were unaware of the activity,” according to the school district’s statement released Tuesday.
When Pacifica High School administrators investigated the incident in March they encountered “disparate accounts and lacked details that have since emerged,” according to the school district.
“School administrators addressed the situation with the students shown in the video and their families, but did not involve the larger school or district community in addressing the issue,” according to the district.
District officials became aware of the video “a few days ago,” officials said. Pacifica High administrators now realize they “did not respond to the incident with the gravity it deserved,” according to the district.
“The school and district has received new information, allegations, and claims that have led us to reopen and widen the scope of the investigation,” according to the district.
“Rest assured that any students engaging in hate speech or activities will face disciplinary action in accordance with California Education Code. We deeply apologize for the pain this has caused our community and the national community at large.”
District officials also said they were “highly concerned about numerous death threats made toward Pacifica students who are in no way involved in this situation.”
District official characterized it as a “crisis for our community,” but lamented that it unfairly paints “a picture of an entire community based on the actions of a few individuals.”
Officials said the furor has prompted “misinformation” to spread “rampantly on social media, which is causing fear and panic in the community.”
Officials appealed to the public for “patience… as we work through this difficult time.”
Officials said they would form a human relations taskforce focused on “school-based hate and bias,” while implementing “anti-bias campaigns” on school campuses.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, whose district includes Garden Grove, said he was “disappointed at the ignorance and callous disregard by these students for the sufferings of millions of victims, the descendants of whom still carry the scars of such losses today.”
“There are universal symbols of intolerance and bigotry, such as Nazism, that we all must categorically condemn as a matter of humanity,” Do said. “As I have stated publicly before, there is a thin line between verbal expression of bigotry and the violence inflicted as a reflection of it. No civilized society, much less our American ideals, can survive such warped extremism.”
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said the video was “disgusting and has no place in our community.”
Steel added that with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp coming in January, “we have a responsibility to educate our youth against anti-Semitism. We cannot be complacent about this evil.”
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