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What you need to know for 07/20/2017

Saratoga district probing hate-speech posting

Saratoga district probing hate-speech posting

Students lured into Instagram site
Saratoga district probing hate-speech posting
Screenshots from the @shs4r Instagram account.
Photographer: Via Instagram

Saratoga police and school officials are investigating an Instagram account promoting white supremacy and anti-Semitic rhetoric that, under the name SHS4R, lured students at Saratoga Springs High School into following it.

“On the site, SHS4R is identified as standing for ‘Saratoga High School Fourth Reich’ and the site makes several references to ‘neo-nazi,’ ” Superintendent Michael Piccirillo said in a letter to parents and students on Wednesday. “I wish to make clear that the views expressed on this site are not representative of the school district’s beliefs nor are they authorized in any way or representative of any club or activity associated with the school district.”

Saratoga police Lt. Bob Jillson said the department’s school resource officer has been working closely with the district since late last week when the page was identified by school officials.

More than 30 students who followed the page have been interviewed as part of the investigation, and none of them knew what exactly they were following, Jillson said. The students were fooled by the acronym into thinking it was tied to the district, he said. Students were also invited to follow the page, according to Piccirillo.

“And once they realized what it was, they unfollowed it,” Jillson said. “Nobody that was spoken to about it knew what its intentions were or what the Instagram account was about.”

Jillson said the incident serves as a reminder to children and adults not to click on anything online without knowing it’s secure and legitimate. It’s still unknown if the individual who started the page was a student, he said. The investigation is ongoing.

“Unfortunately, we’re all under the assumption that it’s a student because of the targeted audience” and some of the phrases used on the page, Jillson said.

Piccirillo said any student that engages in speech or acts violating the school’s code of conduct will be disciplined appropriately and may also be subject to criminal charges.

“Hate and intolerance cut at the core of our values as a school, a city, a state, and a nation,” he said. “As such, it is incumbent upon us to take an active role in exposing intolerance and teaching our children to celebrate diversity as a strength.”

The superintendent went on to further distance the district from the page in his letter to parents and students.

“The Saratoga Springs City School District denounces any speech which promotes acts of hatred or violence against any individual or group and upholds the rights of all students and adults to learn and teach without fear of discrimination, harassment, bullying or intimidation based on an individual’s or group’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or for any other reason,” he said.

The investigation represents the latest response by a Capital Region school district to intolerance following Donald Trump’s presidential win, which many believe has spurred hate speech and crime across the nation.

In November, Shenendehowa Superintendent Oliver Robinson wrote to parents addressing incidents of bigotry that occurred in the school district, citing “an increasing number of cases of students demonstrating, in words and action, extreme bigotry — both racist and anti-Muslim.” In the letter he urged parents to speak with their children about tolerance and respect.

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