A student at Corona del Mar Middle and High School was suspended this week, for saying words deemed threatening, such as “Free Palestine,” to a classmate, according to social media posts circulating Friday. .
Newport-Mesa Unified Assistant Superintendent Kerrie Torres confirmed that the student was suspended for three days from classroom instruction beginning on November 13.
Torres and other district employees reached Friday night said they could not elaborate on what led to the suspension.
But a social media post purportedly from the student’s aunt included a photo of a letter signed by Principal Jacob Haley that said: “(The student) said threatening words to a young woman in class. He said ‘Palestine is free.’” Those social media posts also detailed previous tensions between the student and others at the school.
Corona del Mar High was the site of vandalism last month after swastikas were drawn on a locker.
Newport-Mesa Unified supports the free speech of students, but “it will not tolerate hate speech in our schools, especially not hate speech that incites others to engage in negative behavior,” it said. Annette Franco, spokeswoman for the district, in an emailed statement Friday night.
“We have an obligation to maintain a safe learning environment while respecting students’ rights to speak out on issues,” the statement said. “We take our obligations to students seriously, and as such, there is an expectation for students to engage in respectful dialogue for change, not hate speech directed at a specific student population.”
The suspended student’s family could not be reached for comment Friday night.
In the case of the reported vandalism last month, school officials said they alerted the police who are investigating the incident. There was no indication from district employees or social media posts Friday that the suspended student was involved in the vandalism.
Franco said last month that vandalism and an increase in digital hate speech prompted the school to form an interfaith council made up of students, parents, community members and local religious leaders to discuss the incident and encourage positive dialogue on culturally sensitive issues going forward.
Corona del Mar is a public middle and high school in Newport Beach.