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Vandals Trash Rooms, Scrawl Swastikas in School Break-In

Valley Glen: The incident at the elementary campus, which has been broken into four times recently, is called a hate crime.

January 08, 2002|CLAIRE LUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vandals scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti and destroyed property in several classrooms at a San Fernando Valley elementary school in the fourth break-in in the last four months at the site, officials said.

Classes were held outdoors and in the auditorium Monday while police investigated the break-in at Erwin Street School in Valley Glen.

Nothing was stolen, but school officials could not estimate the damage to the classrooms and walls.

Principal Carmel Vela-Madady said the weekend incident was the first break-in classified as a hate crime at the school. Of the 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, about 70% are Hispanic and 20% are Armenian.

In several of the classrooms, glitter glue and crayons were strewn across the floor and swastikas were spray-painted on blackboards and desks.

Fifth-grade teacher Janice Sonski said she nearly passed out Monday when she saw a 3-foot red swastika with the words "White Power" above it painted on her classroom door.

"I wanted to cry," Sonski said as she pulled a cart of student work--which she called her "portable classroom" until her own is repaired--to her car after school. "This goes beyond being a crime against a race or religion. This is a crime against humanity."

School district and city officials called for strong repercussions against the vandals.

"These immature people brought a message of evil and hate to little children," said City Councilman Jack Weiss. "This goes beyond vandalism." He said what "disgusted" him most was seeing swastikas filling every inch of a blackboard in a first-grade classroom.

Repairs were expected to be finished today, although teachers said they were told to be prepared for another day out of their classrooms. School officials said they were working with the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve security at the school, which does not have an alarm system.

All of Erwin Street's break-ins have involved prying open locks, Vela-Madady said.

"This is just not what we wanted to come back to after our vacation," she said. "But the children are handling it well."

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call the Los Angeles Police Department at (818) 893-6423.

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