By Katina Caraganis
and by Lisa Redmond
AYER — An 18-year-old North Middlesex Regional High School student is facing civil-rights charges after police say he made anti-Semitic remarks to a Jewish classmate and drew a swastika on her locker.
James Heins, of 38 Sartelle St., Pepperell, pleaded innocent in Ayer District Court Wednesday to charges of vandalism and civil-rights violations related to an incident Oct. 27 at North Middlesex in which a student reported that a swastika had been drawn on the front of her locker.
Judge David Cunis released Heins, who was summonsed into court, on personal recognizance. Heins must stay away from the victim. His next court date is March 2.
Heins’ attorney, Frances Dallmeyer, declined comment on the allegations, saying she needs to review the reports in the case.
According to court documents, the female student told Townsend police that a group of students had been targeting her because she is Jewish. She said these students have been hanging around her locker for the past two years, and she told police that their behavior had gotten worse this year. She alleges these students made rude and vulgar remarks to her and threw trash in her locker.
The girl told police that in one incident someone threw a penny at her and told her to “fetch it” then called her a “dirty Jew.”
The insults culminated with a swastika on her locker when she returned from second period on Oct. 27, she told police.
Townsend police met with Principal Christine Battye and Assistant Principal Patricia Washburn to discuss the incident. According to police, Washburn told them she had spoken to several students who hang out in the area of the girl’s locker. Washburn told police she met with the students and their parents, and had the students draw a swastika on a piece of paper.
All students cooperated with officials except for Heins, Washburn told police.
According to court documents, another student told police that anti-Semitic slurs were made toward the girl and that pennies were thrown at her. He alleges that Heins admitted he drew the swastika but blamed another student.
School Superintendent Maureen Marshall said she couldn’t comment on the investigation but said as soon as the incident was brought to the school district’s attention, administrators took “very aggressive action.”
Marshall acknowledged that felony charges have been filed and the investigation is in the hands of Townsend police.
“We’ve had meetings with the staff and faculty to make sure everyone knows the circumstances, so we can make certain that situations like this don’t happen at the school,” Marshall said.
She continued: “We have very specific policies and procedures already in place involving discipline. It’s impossible for any superintendent or police officer or chief to say this will never happen again. Students are aware of our discipline code and teachers have been trained.”
Marshall declined to comment on whether Heins has been suspended from school.
“It’s a sad time for some students in our school as a result of this. I’m sure it’s a difficult time for the student who was arraigned,” Marshall said.
School Committee member Susan Robbins said any incident in the schools is a concern.
“I want to make sure we protect the people that need to be protected,” Robbins said Wednesday afternoon. “I want to protect the youngsters involved.”
Robbins was quick to point out that the incident is alleged at this point.
“We would rather not have it going on,” she said. “The person has rights and they’re going through the judicial system.”
The North Middlesex district, like many other districts, is in the process of putting together a bullying intervention plan and Robbins said that any form of bullying in any school is not acceptable.
She said that the protocol the administration took, which involved turning the matter over to the police, was the right course of action and the administration will take the necessary precautions.
School Committee member Mike Morgan said he hadn’t heard about the arraignment.
“It’s a shame that it happened,” he said. “I think the actions that were taken, from what I’ve seen, are the proper ones. The administration takes it very seriously. It’s a serious matter. It’s just unfortunate.”