Schools, Police Respond to ‘Abhorrent’ Graffiti at JGMS

December 18, 2023

Bedford school and police officials are investigating what Principal Jonathan Hartunian called “an abhorrent event” in an email to the John Glenn Middle School community.

“This week, on two occasions after school, one of our evening custodians informed me about graffiti in a first-floor bathroom. Upon entering the bathroom, I saw homophobic, racist, profane, and threatening language written and scratched into a paper-towel holder and a toilet-paper holder,” Hartunian related.

He added, “Sadly, this is not the first threatening or racially charged incident we have addressed this year. Our students have experienced other acts of racism and homophobia as well as

antisemitism, derogatory comments about Asians, and other hateful language directed to a specific person or group of people.”

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang addressed the overall issue in his Friday’s weekly update. “I have been made aware of several concerning incidents of bias and ignorance at JGMS,” he wrote. “It is clear that we have more work to do as a larger community to reaffirm our commitment to our DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) mission.”

The graffiti Hartunian referenced was reported on Thursday afternoon by the superintendent directly to Chief of Police John Fisher, according to the Police Department’s daily log.

“The school has been very proactive and doing the right thing, and we are working in concert with them,” Fisher said on Monday. He stressed that the school resource officer, Justin Brooks, “is spending time there, and we’re anxious to be a partner.”

Hartunian, in his email, specified the steps taken in response.

“The graffiti was found after students were dismissed,” he wrote. “We documented the graffiti. We locked the bathroom. We started an investigation and contacted police. To provide assurance that students are safe, our school resource officer remained on site for the school day and we monitored students closely.”

“This most recent event occurred in a public and non-supervised space making identifying anyone who directly observed the graffiti an untenable task,” he continued. “As such, a public acknowledgement is the most effective way to ensure all who have been affected have been informed and given the opportunity to be supported.” 

The principal asserted, “We have a student body that has collectively agreed to create a safe environment, cooperate with others, and work towards goals. Homophobic, racist, antisemitic, language or gestures go against our student charter and are not welcome at John Glenn Middle School. They are not tolerated by me or any adult at JGMS and I expect that they will not be tolerated by students either.”

Hartunian acknowledged that in light of the efforts, these episodes have been “disheartening.”

“I expect that everyone will be offended by hateful language, refuse to ignore it, and report it without hesitation to a trusted adult at school or at home,” he wrote. “Our teachers and staff have made a commitment to growing a strong community and their efforts have been fueled with a goal of creating a bubble of positivity and inclusion over our students so that bigotry would not penetrate.”

The principal emphasized that “in all incidents handled by the school administration, the goal is to change the behavior.”

Chuang, in his message, reiterated that “all members of the community – including students, parents, and staff members – not ignore or excuse acts of hate, ignorance, or bias, but report them promptly to school administrators.”

Hartunian, in his email, said that “for all incidents, we investigate thoroughly. which includes interviewing victims, offenders, and any witnesses. We also try to use external camera footage to verify what we learn in interviewing.”

A proposal on the fiscal 2025 capital budget would install interior cameras in common areas of Bedford schools, though not in bathrooms. Fisher pointed out that had cameras been in place, “we might have to talk to eight or 10 people rather than hundreds.”

“I will not allow the actions of a minority to define John Glenn Middle School,” Hartunian declared in his communication. “We will look to bring our school together in support of positive behavior and inclusivity.”

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