California students denounce photo of fellow students at party with swastika image

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Students and parents at a Newport Beach high school are infuriated after a photo of partygoers believed to be students at the school showed them posing alongside anti-Semitic imagery.

The picture shows a group of teens in a Nazi salute and a swastika formed out of plastic cups. At least some of the partygoers are believed to be students at Newport Harbor High School.

The incident triggered a conversation on the campus about the past, present and anti-Semitism.

An open letter was written by Jewish students addressed to the school's administration and community saying the photo is not an isolated event.

MORE: Photo of OC students at party with swastika image sparking outrage

"It's in our own school. You pee next to swastikas etched on the walls, you write your essays on desks that have swastikas etched into them," student Max Drakeford said.

Newport Harbor High School hosted a forum with the principals of several high schools and members of the Jewish community around 6 p.m. Monday.

More than 500 parents, teachers and students attended the meeting, saying the incident is one of many problems and that it needs to be addressed.

"The blame is on all of us really. This environment allowed them all to feel comfortable enough to do that," Drakeford said during the meeting.

The packed chambers included speeches from rabbis, honoring Holocaust survivors who were in the audience and emotional speeches from students.

"What I'm most concerned about of the 20 plus people there, is that no one stepped up and said anything," Ben Kwong said.

Student Gina Leanna said that the privilege in the community can lead to these incidents.

"I am standing here today to speak up for anyone who has felt marginalized in this community," she said. "We live in an extremely privileged community and that privilege can lead to bigotry, ignorance and hate. It is our job - not just the school administrators, not just the principals - the community needs to change."

Newport Beach resident Chad Towersey said he personally knows some of the students in the photo, and said their parents are not taking the action lightly.

"Not all the kids were from Newport Beach, and I know those parents. I've had stern conversations with their children and they're going to be punished accordingly," Towersey said. "But that's up to the parents to do that and not up to society to put a bunch of kids on blast."

Towersey said he knows the teens in the picture are not racist.

"It was insensitive that they put up a swastika, but I know the kids in that video and they are not racist," Towersey said.

In their letter, students ask administrators and community members to ensure no student forgets the hate the swastika represents and that all students understand the harm of even the smallest symbols and actions of hatred.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District and local law enforcement launched an investigation following the photo, which has led to interviews with over two dozen students and their families. School officials said they will hold students accountable and are weighing disciplinary action.

"Every step back can and must become an impetus for a giant leap forward," Rabbi Reuven Mintz said.

The district will hold another meeting at Corona Del Mar High School on Thursday night.
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