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Students sing Nazi marching song in video

By Susan Christian Goulding

sgoulding@scng.com @scgoulding on Twitter

Garden Grove Unified School District officials are facing questions about the handling of an anti-Semitic incident at Pacifica High last year.

In a video posted on social media, about a dozen members of the 2018 boys water polo team are shown performing a Nazi marching song while extending their arms in a Hitler salute. The video shows one boy getting out of his seat and walking away while at least one other boy remains seated. The district issued a statement Monday saying the video was recorded in November 2018 before an “off-campus student athletics banquet in an empty and unsupervised room at the facility.”

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In the brief clip, one student stands at a podium before an audience of other boys, all wearing coats and ties. The identities of the players and their respective team levels are unclear. Some may have been seniors who are no longer at the school.

According to the statement, Pacifica High administrators did not become aware of the video until March, four months later.

“The video was shared within a small group of students on SnapChat,” the district said.

Officials said administrators “took immediate action and addressed the situation with all students and families involved.”

Federal law prohibits disclosing details of student discipline, the district said.

“In response to this unfortunate incident,” the statement said, “district and school administrators have reached out to community organizations to provide support that will continue to ensure an antibias learning environment and address issues of hate.”

The district did not say whether the students involved were allowed to remain on their team, which has become a powerhouse in Orange County.

In 2017, the Orange County Register named Pacifica water polo coach Eduardo Osorio its Coach of the Year, saying he had “orchestrated the best turnaround in the county by guiding the Mariners to their first CIF-SS and Empire League championships.”

The team is scheduled to open its season next week.

Rabbi Peter Levi, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Orange County chapter, said Pacifica should have proactively addressed the video with the entire campus community.

“In terms of consequences for the students, that is for the school and the parents to figure out,” Levi said. “But it could have been an opportunity to express school values and boundaries.” The episode echoes an incident earlier this year involving Newport Harbor High students. In March, a photo shared on social media captured students flashing a Nazi salute as they surrounded a swastika formed by red plastic cups.

But reciting a song meant to galvanize German soldiers during World War II required prior online research, said Peter Simi, associate professor of sociology at Chapman University.

“This was not spontaneous,” said Simi, who studies extremist groups. “You can argue that a Nazi salute is a spur of the moment thing. You cannot say that about a song. They even had music playing.”

Levi said the school must investigate “how an obscure Nazi song ended up at that banquet.”

“Alt-right white supremacist groups have stepped up their outreach in the past two years,” he said. “Is a student flirting with these horrible ideas? If someone is being radicalized online, it needs to be disrupted. All students should feel safe and accepted on campus.”

The image of Newport Harbor High students, along with friends from other schools, partying around a swastika provoked widespread condemnation. However, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust instead used it as a chance to educate.

“It was a grim reminder of how urgent our work is,” said Michele Gold, board chairwoman for the museum. “The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers, but with words and symbols.

“We invited the Newport Beach students to take a tour with us, meet a Holocaust survivor and come face to face with artifacts from the Holocaust,” Gold said. “The students seemed totally inspired. I think they learned a little more empathy and respect that day.

“Now,” Gold added, “we will reach out to the Garden Grove students.” Orange County Register high school sports writer Dan Albano contributed to this report.

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