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Two Kindergarten Students of Mixed Races Come Home From Imagine School With Swastikas on Their Skin

| November 18, 2016

The swastika drawn on the hand of Letty Comin's grandson, a kindergartener at Imagine School at Town Center in palm Coast. (Mercedes Owens)

The swastika drawn on the hand of Letty Comin’s grandson, a kindergartener at Imagine School at Town Center in palm Coast. (Mercedes Owens)

In mid-afternoon Thursday a kindergarten student from Imagine School at Town Center was let off the bus at his stop in Palm Coast’s W Section. His mother, Mercedes Owens, and his grandmother, Letty Comin, were there to pick him up.

“We were crossing the street back with him and he showed me his hand,” Comin said, “and he said, ‘Look, my friend wrote a number on me.’ He thought it was a number.”

It was not. It was a swastika, the Nazi symbol adopted by white nationalists,  supremacists and other hate groups.

The kindergartener is of mixed black and Latino parentage. A white middle school boy, his parents say, had drawn it on the kindergartener’s hand.

“That was the saddest part is to see the sadness in his eyes when he realized it’s not a friend, when he realized it’s not a number or a cute drawing,” Comin said of her grandchild, “and it was a very sad conversation to have to have with a 5 year old that really broke my heart. He loves everybody. He doesn’t know black from white. He doesn’t care. Everybody is equal to him, and that love and that serenity and that peace was attacked in our home and I’m devastated about it. You hear about this happening to other people and it hits you, but when it hits home, it’s a very, very, very scary situation.”

Around the same time in a different part of town, Priscilla Aponte’s son, who’s also in kindergarten, had just gotten off the Imagine bus at his grandmother’s house, where he usually goes while his mother is at work. He’s of Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Greek and Black heritage.

He called his mom and told her that a boy on the bus wanted to “draw a tattoo” on his arm and hand, which the older boy described to him as “a German sign.” Aponte immediately intuited what the “German sign” was, and she was right. It was a swastika, drawn by the same boy, with the same pale green marker. In his case her son had tried to rub off the swastikas—still not knowing what the sign was–worried he’d might get in trouble for having had something written on his skin.  

The kindergartener was not upset at first, until his mother explained what the sign was. “He was very sad about it,” Aponte said. “He would never think anybody would hate him, so he was very hurt by it.”

There is an unconfirmed report of a third child being targeted with a swastika on the same bus as well. The incidents have been verified by the school: the student drawing the hate signs is clearly visible in video footage from the bus, as are the apparent acts of drawing the swastikas.

The somewhat faded signs on Priscilla Aponte's son. (Priscilla Aponte)

The somewhat faded signs on Priscilla Aponte’s son. (Priscilla Aponte)

It is the first recorded case of what at least appears to be racism or hate-motivated intimidation in Palm Coast since the election of Donald Trump, but only one of a mounting number of such incidents across the country since then: as of Nov. 15, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, intimidation and attacks, reports 437 case of “hateful intimidation and harassment” since Nov. 9, with 136 incidents targeting immigrants, 89 targeting blacks, and more than 40 each targeting LGBT members or Muslims. “There were many examples of vandalism and epithets directed at individuals,” the center reported. “Often times, types of harassment overlapped and many incidents, though not all, involved direct references to the Trump campaign. Every incident could not be immediately independently verified.”

This one has been, though the motive behind the drawings has not been determined. Motivation may decide whether the sheriff’s office treats this as a minor incident or as a hate crime, and would determine the handling of the offending student by the school.

Thursday afternoon Owens and Comin immediately called the school and the sheriff’s office, and both school and sheriff’s office responded quickly, though with sharply different outcomes: the sheriff’s office quickly concluded that no crime had taken place. The deputy who’d responded advised Comin to contact an attorney (which she has) and request a “sit down meeting with the other child and the other child[‘s] parents,” according to a sheriff’s report.

The school launched an investigation that continues today—and caused the sheriff’s office late this morning to reopen its own investigation.  

“The principal, Mr. [Jimmy] Mernard, he called me three times yesterday,” Comin said, “he was very attentive, very supportive and he jumped on it immediately. He said he was going to contact the family of the child that did it, that he was very surprised at who it was. I told him I wanted a meeting with this child’s parents and he said he would do his best to make that happen.” But Comin is afraid for her grandson’s safety, and is seeking to have the offending child expelled, though the offense may not rise to that level of gravity as far as the student code of conduct is concerned.

Menard would not speak with a reporter, emailing the number for Imagine’s corporate PR person instead, Rhonda Cagle, who spoke at length from Phoenix, Ariz. She said Menard was focused on issues at the school for now and gave no indication that he would be speaking to media.

Cagle also dismissed the possibility that the incident was conjured up, or a hoax.

“It is my understanding that we do have clear footage, that footage is being reviewed, and that’s as far as I can comment,” Cagle said of the incident on the bus. “We are conducting an investigation and in light of that we are making sure appropriate steps are followed to provide for not only physical safety but emotional safety of the students that are involved.” The offending student was not on the bus this morning, she said.

Imagine is a public, charter school. Its code of conduct aligns with that of the school district. Cagle would not discuss the handling of the case or potential consequences, saying only that there would be consequences.

“For us as a school, we have high expectations for every student when it comes to both their character and their academic performance,” Cagle said, “and this kind of behavior is not consistent with the kind of character expectations we set for our students, and we will follow through. Pending the outcome of the investigation, we will take appropriate disciplinary action.”

The parents and grandparents of the two children targeted have both had extensive conversations with Jimmy Menard, the principal. “The principal is not happy at all with the whole situation,” Aponte said, “he’s very disgusted with what’s going on, he does not allow that kind of behavior in his school.”

This afternoon Menard sent an email to parents of Imagine students, acknowledging the incident and encouraging them to share the information with their children, should they have questions, suggesting the school is trying to use the incident as an educational opportunity. Menard minced no words in his characterization of the swastikas. 

“Two of our younger students arrived home yesterday with swastikas, which we consider racially biased images, drawn on their hand and arm,” he wrote. “An older student allegedly drew the images on them as they rode the bus home from school.” He summarized the sheriff’s and school’s involvement so far, such as the review of video footage and making “arrangements for an alternate form of transportation for the student in question.”

“Pending the outcome of the investigation,” he wrote, “appropriate disciplinary action will be taken in accordance with our Code of Conduct, and he echoed Cagle’s phrasing about character, stressing that 

“We take this seriously,” he wrote. “Please use this incident as a way to speak with your child about the kind of character that defines the expectations for our school and broader community. Please also be assured that incidents of this nature will not be tolerated.”

Both sets of parents publicized the cases on Facebook, triggering a flood of responses and concern, along with a few skeptical, contrarian or offensive comments. A death threat was texted to a FlaglerLive reporter in conjunction with the same thread.

Late this morning Jim Troiano, the sheriff’s office’s chief spokesperson, said the school had contacted the office this morning, requesting a deputy, prompting a resumption of the sheriff’s investigation into the matter. “We need to do a follow up this morning to ensure that all the bases were covered and the investigation was done properly,” Troiano said.

Key to the investigation though would be the motivation behind the drawing of the swastikas. “If it was done with prejudice, then that’s the hate crime part,” Troiano said, which would then require the incident to be reported to state and federal authorities as a hate crime, and would kick in a different set of penalties. “So this is a first degree misdemeanor, it potentially could be a third degree felony, but again, that’s if a crime was charged.”

That has not happened.

in early afternoon Friday, Troiano emailed the following statement: “A deputy has conducted a follow up investigation today and has come to the same conclusion the deputy did last night that no crime has occurred. The deputy was able to verify today that the fifth grade student who drew the swastika on the hand of a kindergarten student yesterday while they were on a school bus was only “goofing around” and the kindergarten student did not know what the symbol meant until he arrived at home. In fact, when the deputy asked the fifth grade student today what he drew on the child’s hand, he stated he did not know. No crime has occurred and the incident will be handled by the administration at Imagine School.”

The parents involved both spoke highly of Imagine School, which has a reputation for being as richly inclusive as it is diverse. Their attention focused on the broader media atmosphere of the past two weeks and the toxic election season, as well as on the parents of the offending student, whose knowledge of swastikas, they say, could not have happened in a vacuum.

“I guess the child that did this horrible act is probably [reacting to] what he’s learning at home,”  Aponte said. “The parents should be held accountable for it because this starts at home. A child should not know what this means. It’s a hate sign.”

Comin described her grandchild’s experience at Imagine in glowing terms: he loves his teacher, he’s thriving there, well-adjusted and happy. She was as upset at the swastika drawn on his hand as she was at the possibility that his good experience at the school could now be in jeopardy, as she does not want him risking being intimidated or confronted again. But while at the beginning of the interview she was adamant about wanting the offending student expelled, Comin gradually moderated to being “very amenable to listening to everything that is stated, but I don’t know how I feel about that because it’s about the safety of my child going forward, and I really believe there has to be some accountability from his parents. Somebody had to teach this child what that meant. In any case at the end of the day his parents are responsible.”

Like Aponte, Comin did not disassociate the incident from its broader context. “I really believe that our country is in turmoil right now,” Comin said. “I believe that we have a presidential race that was run on hatred, and I believe that all of the things said on TV and kids have been privy to hear has really made an effect on how this country is moving forward. I’m very saddened by this whole incident. Our country has never been more racially divided than it is now since the slavery days, and I’m appalled by the situation. I don’t want to blame everything on our president-elect, I want to be responsible about what’s printed here, but I honestly feel that this campaign run on hatred and won on hatred is feeding the fires.”

37 Responses for “Two Kindergarten Students of Mixed Races Come Home From Imagine School With Swastikas on Their Skin”

  1. terminus says:

    This is exactly why people are terrified of a Trump world (and with his latest appointments people are correct in their fear). People that hate now feel justified of their hatred and are acting brazen and bold in their openness of that hate. It won’t get better. It will just get worse. Thank you to all the bigots, racists, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic people that voted for hate…karma, it’s a thing and it will happen.

  2. A Jewish Connection says:

    For those of us who had relatives die in concentration camps during the Holocaust, this is appalling.
    I have the “Jude” star that my grandmother sewed on her coat in Vienna. It remains as a family heirloom – a passage in history that we decry: NEVER AGAIN.
    The child who did this learned it from somewhere – and was not educated in the severe truth of this symbol by the people from whom he learned it.
    I say to the adults in this child’s life: NEVER AGAIN.
    “Cry, the beloved country” – America is in deep trouble.

  3. YankeeExPat says:

    To all the naysayers that will go on to speculate or aim to justify, that this is “Just a Childish Prank” or “Too overly a Politically Correct Reaction “……..and I am absolutely sure those folks are out there, ……….GET A GRIP!, ….THIS IS THE FACE OF RACISM IN OUR COMMUNITY AND OUR COUNTRY, AND IT IS DEPLORABLE !.

  4. Dave says:

    100% a Hate crime, and no I don’t agree the parents are responsible. The child who comitted this crime was old enough to learn in their circle of friends. Either way expulsion is appropriate in this circumstance

  5. Heather says:

    “Fascism is very much a mob movement. ” P.J. O’Rourke

  6. Brian says:

    This article went sideways quickly, in that somehow this is related to Trump winning the election. I am very skeptical that a kid on a school is so politically astute that he is upset about Trump.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is an alarming and truly sad incident. There is no doubt that the offending child is learning this behavior from somewhere, whether it be his/her immediate home or not. Since this is a vital question that might have to do with possible child abuse and/or exploitation, Child protective Services should have immediately have been called to investigate as well. No one should be sweeping this under the rug or assuming that some other agency will take care of it, passing it off between agencies like a hot potato. There are children at risk–including the offender, in this case. The Sheriff’s office, the school AND CPS should all be coordinating their investigations and setting up JOINT meetings to discuss the results with the parents whose children were the targets of the swastika drawing. What is REALLY really tragic is the thought that recent political events (and the resulting press coverage) may be exacerbating the problem. We need to focus more on teaching and positive intervention, and not so much on sensationalism. But I commend Flaglerlive for bringing awareness to the issue. I look forward to hearing about the follow-up–which I sincerely hope will be both thorough and appropriate.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Why must we bring race into this one? It’s not at all a case of racism…its a kindergartener who saw this symbol and thinks it’s cool, or is trying to be funny.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      It’s a fifth grader who allegedly drew a swastika on the skins of at least two unknowing kindergarteners. Accuracy matters.

  9. woodchuck says:

    Trump’s fault really?That’s just whacked!

  10. Longman says:

    Hate Crime?? 5-7 yr old does not know the meaning of this symbol.
    Parents fault? Trumps fault? Doubt it

  11. Ariana says:

    Click on any of the links I provided, and you will see swastikas in association with the election and Trump–so you cannot say this has nothing to do with/no association with the election. Now, whether those symbols were painted by Trump supporters showing their racist beliefs, or by anti-Trump-era in an attempt to discredit his campaign remains unclear.

    What IS clear, is that with the availability n accessibility of nearly EVERYTHING on the internet–particularly social media–it’s quite possible this 5th grader doesn’t know what he drew and did not learn it from his parents; it’s possible (and probable) that he is mimicking something he saw broadcasted everywhere during our $hit$how of an election.

    Rather than suspend/expel a 5th grader for this (9yr old?), he n his class should be made to do a research report on this symbol n the horrific things it represents. Only with education and enlightenment will we make any strides toward eradicating racism, and right now our country is regressing on that front.

    The fact that this message needed to be brought to light by a 5th grader; to show what we’ve become as a country–it’s a sad state of affairs. Not everything is meant for social media, and not all things are especially intended for children’s eyes.
    I take solace in the fact that I speak for the majority when I say I’m disgusted by all of it…

  12. DaveT says:

    Nothing to do with Trump,. hate has always been running wild in America way too long. Long before Trump. Just which the local news and get your dose of murder and violence each and every night. These kids got this from someone, maybe they are just imitating a parent or perhaps a family relative or friend or from TV. . This is a sickening event.

  13. Doug Sisk says:

    Please consider the possibility that this child truly was just goofing off. He/She may have just been exposed to the symbol tangentially/innocently as a “German Symbol”. Something he saw when his parents we’re watching Schindler’s List or the like.

    Maybe he asked about it, and the parents were not courageous enough and/or ready to explain what it represented – copped out for whatever reason.

    We’ve all done and said some pretty stupid/impulsive things in our youth – its part of the maturing process.

    I learned a valuable lesson when I was working summers painting in my College days. My co-worker was of Italian heritage, and I used the term WOP interchangeably with the term Gumba in his presence. One day he threatened me with a knuckle sandwich if I used that slur again. I was obviously exposed to the terms somewhere (likely TV), but didn’t really know what they meant. Lesson learned – I never use terminology that I don’t fully know the meaning/nuance anylonger.

    That said, it is possible that he learned this at home, but we don’t know. Let the investigation run its course before we condemn the child or his parents.

  14. Jordyn says:

    Expulsion is probably taking it too far, but this is where education is extremely important. Kids are going to parrot what they see and hear, and they need to be given the chance to learn why something is right or wrong rather than just be tossed out for it. The parents and the fifth grader should be having a sit down with the principal and brought to an understanding of why this is wrong. I agree that a report or essay on the history of the swastika is probably an excellent way to teach the lesson. (Even disregarding the image, the fifth grader is old enough to know better than to touch other people, or draw ANYTHING on another person, and that alone deserves an assignment. Making the assignment a learning experience about the swastika is the right thing to do.)

    Expulsion should only come in to play if the parents object to the consequences. They can enroll their student elsewhere if they don’t agree with the consequences.

    I’ve heard great things about the Imagine school. I wouldn’t be surprised if the principal handles this correctly and there is a positive outcome for all the students involved.

  15. Ellie says:

    So sad! My son has been going to this school since it first opened and never heard about anything like this happening before. I think Mr. Menard is handling this well so far by giving this immediate attention. I am not surprised though. Originally from NY I moved here 15 years ago and I have never seen so much racism then here in Flagler county…..very sad that our children have to grow up around this but unfortunately it is everywhere

  16. newinpc says:

    Instead of fighting about politics on the comment section, why don’t we all e-mail the Imagine school principal, and the sheriff’s office. We have to demand that this child has consequences. He obviously knew what the swastika meant if he put it on biracial children’s hands. There needs to be a message sent that racism is not acceptable.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Anyone trying to minimize this incident as saying that the offender MAYBE thought it was “cool’ or “funny” (so, no big deal) needs to examine their own attitudes. Why would a child pick a swastika, of all things, to draw on another child’s hand, out of all the other things a child might have drawn? That kind of attitude conveyed to our children (that it’s no big deal) is EXACTLY the problem here. Considering the hysterical over-reactions some people have regarding the Confederate flag around here, I find these kinds of comments justifying Nazi symbols distateful, to say the least.

  18. Anonymous says:

    A middle schooler is certainly old enough to be aware of what a swastika is…if they are learning anything about history in school.

  19. c;s says:

    Of COURSE it is racism. Punishment should be quick and severe. Blame the parents as well…

  20. Percy's mother says:

    1. For those of you who haven’t travelled much, if you go to places like Nepal, Tibet, even some locations in India, you will see this symbol just about everywhere. This symbol originated in Asia as a spiritual symbol. It was used as a symbol for the evil of the Nazi regime. However, originally it was a spiritual symbol. Look it up. Do some research. Learn something.

    2. Another instance of small-minded people blowing things way out of proportion and most likely looking towards a law suit for financial gain down the road.

    3. An 10/11-year-old usually doesn’t have the foresight to think things through. No more and no less.

  21. Frustrated says:

    Did it occur to anyone this older child saw this on tv & truly was joking around. I know
    how offensive, horrible & dangerous this swastika is but let’s trust the deputy’s report
    and the Sheriffs office & let the school handle it.
    As for blaming the election of Trump on this, it’s not Trumps supporters
    That caused riots at his rallies, they are not out rioting in the streets declaring love while exhibiting hatred & attacking people, destroying property, etc. People the bottom line is no matter
    Our race, religious beliefs, etc WE ARE AMERICANS!

  22. Ellie says:

    As a member of this school as a parent The principal has been very open and we know this investigation is not over. They have a very low tolerance and really try to get the children to fill the character traits required to stay at the school.

  23. footballen says:

    I hope the people in charge of handling this situation are a little more level headed than some of you. Geeesh

  24. Edith Campins says:

    This is an older child who did this to younger children.

    It has everything to do with Trump. He las legitimized hate and racism.

  25. Sherry says:

    If the 11 years old fifth grader was “just goofing off” he would NOT have targeted mixed race children for marking with such a notoriously horrific symbol of hate. Just as the Jewish victims of the Nazis were tattooed. He obviously knew exactly what he was doing. And, he is old enough to know better.

    There needs to be consequences for his actions and some consciousness raising and education at the school relating to such symbols and such bullying. I hope Flaglerlive does a follow up story on how this terrible situation is resolved.

    Regarding the connection to the election of Trump. . . of course it is related! Although Trump did not start racism and xenophobia in our country, he “personally” has vastly emboldened the despicable people who live among us every day: Racists, Bigots, Sexual Predators, Xenophobes, Homophones, etc.. . . they all love Trump. Noting that he has horrific Steve Bannon as one of his counselors, Trump also loves them right back. To defend Trump and say that these kinds of incidents around the country are not related is nothing short of idiotic and ridiculous!

  26. NortonSmitty says:

    I love this. It is not an explanation in it’s entirety for a Trumpster, but it is a start.

    They have guilty consciences, they’re afraid – and fear and guilty consciences have a good savor in the nostrils of the gods. Yes, the gods take pleasure in such poor souls. Would you oust them from the favor of the gods? What, moreover, could you give them in exchange? Good digestions, the gray monotony of provincial life, and the boredom – ah, the soul-destroying boredom – of long days of mild content.
    — from “The Flies,” by Jean-Paul Sartre

  27. Veteran says:

    I’m sure every bad thing that happens will be Trumps fault until he’s out of the White House.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I bet any one of the good citizens who have been commenting on this column about how this was all just an innocent joke that people are over-reacting to would be the first to “over-react” if it was their child or grandchild that was targeted, bullied or “marked”, in any way, by an older child. Racism is not a joke and it should not be tolerated, excused, justified or in any way minimized. It COULD be your child or grandchild next time. I can just imagine the uproar if a White child of this age was being targeted by a child of color. In fact, I HAVE seen commentors “over-reacting” in just such a fashion (and a lot more strongly) when circumstances looked like shoe might be on the other foot.

  29. Outsider says:

    Well, if this misplaced prank or malicious act of hatred, whichever it may be, is Trump’s fault, then the four police officers shot in two days is certainly Obama’s fault. It all began with “I believe the police acted stupidly.”

  30. noneyourbusiness says:

    Really Flagler Sheriffs Office??? no crime?….where have your Deputies gone to school? oh wait…they haven’t!!! FCSO just does not want to go through all the trouble of writing reports, perform community policing, or even bring the case up to the DJJ, which in turn could handle the case, being that this is a Juvenile. FCSO does well,(really well), when writing citations, and professing accountability, responsibility and citizen safety. Although, “professing” does not mean acting upon it. Do your jobs and fight crime and hold accountability standards up to par. FCSO is a disgrace to our community and SAFETY citizens of this county…be aware, very aware

  31. Mathchick says:

    Were these children specifically singled out for their mixed race or were they just little kids sitting next to the bully on the bus he used as his target? Only the bus camera will show. Some adults are quick to see race- some out of hate and some out of defense but either way it’s seeing first color and, ironically, isn’t that what we are trying to purge our culture from? Sad how the media and others keep fanning the headlines long before verdicts are reached and truth is sorted out. Perhaps we should turn off the TV (rather than believing what we see) and teach our kids we are ONE race— humanity.

  32. Thatswhatshesaid says:

    No, That’s was Obama Syndrome….everything was his fault

    Thanks Obama…

  33. Dave says:

    Percy’s mother everyone knows where the symbol originated, you are not teaching anyone anything. But that’s not how the child who used it described it. As for the powers that helped Trump reach the presidency, they are the ones responsible for the police shootings, there is an attempt to divide and conquer or country happening right now, it’s bigger than you think.

  34. JanieM says:

    We are talking about an 11 year old targeting much younger children. In this case two 5 year olds of mixed races and branding them with a symbol of hatred and racism. DCF should be called immediately and this 11 year old should not be allowed back to the school until the incident and his parents are fully investigated! Wake up America- this is his how fascism begins. Do not allow or justify this behavior- there is no room for it.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Funny how some people see nothing wrong with seeing another person’s child/grandchild being targeted and marked with an obvious symbol of hate. I am willing to bet that that 11 year old didn’t do what he did because he learned about the swastika being a a symbol of spirituality in Nepal. Give me break! I bet a Black or Hispanic kid looked crosswise at THEIR loved one for a mere second, they’d be screaming for the school board to DO SOMETHING, DANG IT! Or if that 11 year old aspiring bully had been held down by righteous 11 year Black or Hispanic kid and had “KKK” drawn onto their arm–which at least might have been more accurate. Hypocrites!

  36. Mark says:

    Amazing how many ASSUME so much. “targeted” “taught” “hate crime” “terrified of a Trump world” “hate motivation incident”. It was cause by Trump’s election. Just amazing. Like nothing like this happened before Trump’s election. Never, ever, ever. Just another part of life for liberals to whine.

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