Loyola Blakefield closed after racist graffiti in bathroom stall, Towson boys school says

Officials at Loyola Blakefield, a Catholic boys’ school in Towson, closed the school Thursday after threatening graffiti using a racial slur was discovered in a bathroom stall, administrators said.

“We are heartbroken and outraged by this attack on the respect and dignity of members of our community, especially our African-American members who were targeted by this hateful message,” school President Anthony Day said in a statement.

“We will discover who did this,” Day said, “and they will no longer be a part of our community.”

The Jesuit school enrolls students in grades six through 12. School officials said they were working with Baltimore County police “to investigate this hateful act.”

They said they closed the school “out of an abundance of care for our community.”

The graffiti discovered Wednesday in Burk Hall said, “No n-----s better be here come Thursday,” according to an incident report filed by county police. A student reported the graffiti to a staff member, police wrote in the report.

The same bathroom also was vandalized last week. On Dec. 4, that message read, “We hate n-----s,” the police report stated. That graffiti also included a drawing of a figure hanging from a noose.

Police wrote in the incident report that school officials told them there have been “ongoing bias-related incidents at the school since the start of the fall semester, and they are becoming concerned about the escalation of the language.”

Police also wrote that while “there was no clear immediate threat to the school, [school officials] felt it best to take all precautions possible.”

School administrators told police this week that other incidents this year were not previously reported to law enforcement, police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach said.

“They have had other issues and other problems, according to them, since the beginning of the school year,” she said. “Our investigation will not only focus on the graffiti that was carved into the bathroom stall [Wednesday], but will include all events that have happened that have gone unreported.”

Peach said police worked with school officials Thursday to review surveillance footage.

Burk Hall is home to the offices of the headmaster, assistant head of school and guidance and counseling as well as the art history, computer science, math and religious studies departments.

Loyola Blakefield officials issued a statement to the media about the graffiti and school closure, but did not respond to a request from The Baltimore Sun for additional comment.

School leaders wrote to parents Wednesday evening and to alumni on Thursday to inform them of the graffiti.

“In many ways, our current students are showing tremendous leadership in stepping forward to help spread a message that denounces intolerance and calls out those who would dare commit such acts on our campus,” Day and board Chairman Bill McCarthy wrote in the e-mail to alumni. “We are in the process of forming a plan that not only addresses what is at our immediate attention, but also moves us forward over the long term.”

The school planned to re-open Friday, with a schedule of activities that will allow students to “pray, reflect, and share with one another,” Day and Principal John Marinacci wrote in another letter to families Thursday evening.

The school will have “robust security measures” in place, including additional security personnel and community outreach patrol from the Baltimore County Police Department, the letter said.

Day and Marinacci said school leaders spent Wednesday meeting with the school’s faculty and staff, as well as a group of students, to help discuss the next steps for addressing the issue.

The school’s network of alumni includes a number of men in prominent positions in the Baltimore area. At one point in recent years, five members of the City Council were graduates of the school.

Longtime Baltimore community activist Ralph Moore, who graduated from the school in 1970, said he and other African-American alumni were planning to meet Thursday evening “to discuss how we want to respond to what's going on at the school.”

Moore said he was surprised by the decision to cancel classes.

“I think if they had asked me or some of the other African-American guys, maybe we would have said, ‘Don’t close the school,’” said Moore, who chairs a diversity committee of the African-American alumni. “Find another way to make the statement that we don’t tolerate this kind of thing.”

In the 1970s, Moore taught social studies at the school and was the only black faculty member at the time.

He said he has been pushing the school for the past several years to develop a diversity plan to increase the number of black students and teachers at the predominantly white school.

Several years ago, black alumni started the Frank P. Fischer Diversity Scholarship Fund for African-American students, he said. The fund is named in honor of a former Jesuit who worked to recruit black students to the school beginning in the 1960s.

Moore said school leaders “don’t understand diversity in every way.”

“They’re all good people,” he said, “but they don’t know what they don’t know.”

alisonk@baltsun.com

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