ENCINITAS, Calif. – Authorities Monday were working to find those responsible for spray painting racist and homophobic slurs on a wall on the campus of San Dieguito Academy High School.

A new coat of paint was recently added outside of San Dieguito Academy High School after someone painted a series of racist and homophobic slurs there on New Year’s Day. (FOX 5 photo)

The incident, alleged to have happened New Year’s Day, is the latest in a series of racially motivated graffiti taggings this year at San Dieguito Union High School District schools, according to district officials. Students, parents and community activists gathered Monday outside of the high school for a news conference to condemn the offensive vandalism and demand change.

“I feel like when this kind of thing happens, it changes a safe space to something that’s really, really unsafe,” a sophomore at the school told FOX 5.

The other two taggings have come in the past two months at San Dieguito Academy and Torrey Pines High School, respectively, the district said.

“As kids returned to schools after COVID, it has been insane,” Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward said, adding that “built-up trauma” is being released as students return to the classroom.

Surveillance video of the most recent incident apparently shows a person in a mask and hoodie walking up and scrawling the offense language on the walls early on Jan. 1. James-Ward told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the graffiti was painted over by 1 p.m. of the same day, but it gained attention after it was brought to light in social media posts by community activist Tasha Williamson.

The superintendent believes the suspect is a youth due to their mannerisms and the way that they walk.

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department deputies are looking into the incident as a potential hate crime. If the individual responsible is over the age of 18, they potentially could face a more severe punishment than just being expelled from school.

But Joy Ruppert, a student who serves as president of ASB at San Dieguito Academy, told FOX 5 that if it’s a student, she believes — rather than expulsion — the person appears to need some help.

“They shouldn’t be expelled,” Ruppert said. “They just need to be more empathetic and have proper education.”