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Graduation off-limits to students who snuck Nazi references in poem

NEW YORK, June 17 (JTA) — Two Georgia high school students have been barred from graduation ceremonies after school officials learned that a poem they wrote for a school magazine contained hidden references to Hitler and Nazis. A student who was reading Pegasus, the literary magazine of Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga, east of Atlanta, realized that the first letter of each word in a poem spelled out the words “Hitler” and “Nazi.” The school, which has not released the names of the individuals involved, immediately began to investigate how the poem ended up in the magazine. Connie Corley, the school’s principal, said in a telephone interview that the offensive words were not originally noticed because they did not begin with capital letters. “Once you look carefully,” you can see it, she said. The words “Hitler” and “Nazi” were also spelled out inside a sketch of a flower that accompanied the poem. The poem and drawing were apparently snuck into the magazine before it was sent to the printer. The hidden messages were discovered last week, just two days before school ended for the year. “The students, faculty and community are outraged over this,” Corley said. “It’s horrible.” Corley insisted that the incident is not an accurate reflection of the views of the school. But since this incident came to light, some have called the Anti- Defamation League to voice their concern over other problems at the school. Of 2,500 students at the school, some 20 are Jewish, according to local news reports. According to the local office of the ADL, parents have complained that the school scheduled homecoming on Yom Kippur, refused to excuse absences for important Jewish holidays and held freshman orientation on Passover. Corley said the calendar the school used did not list April 22 as Passover. As for excused absences, she said, “We have always given excused absences to any religious holiday.” One other complaint alleged that the school took longer than necessary to remove a swastika from the ceiling of a history classroom. Corley denied the charge. Jay Kaiman, southeast director for the ADL, said his organization looked into the complaints and found that “these are separate incidents which came to light in the wake of this incident. “There is no gross negligence on the part of the school,” Kaiman added. Corley agreed and said that by lumping isolated incidents together, people reach the wrong conclusions. “We must redouble our efforts in reaching out to students regarding the lessons of history,” Kaiman said. The students who wrote the poem did not have a history of anti- Semitic views. Since they had already completed all the requirements needed to graduate, the students will receive their diplomas. The school has asked students to destroy their copies of the magazine. It will be redistributed in the fall without the poem and the sketch. The ADL “will work with [us] this summer so we can better understand the issues,” Corley said, adding that “this could happen in a lot of places.”

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