The South Orange-Maplewood community has been reeling this past week as bias incidents in its schools seem to be coming to a boil.
Following two incidents of racist graffiti found this week in South Orange Middle School and an incident in February in which Maplewood Middle School students used a Nazi gesture in school, parents took to social media to react to reports of 4th graders at South Mountain School chanting the name of Adolf Hitler in school this week.
South Mountain School Principal Alyna Jacobs responded with the following letter:
To Our South Mountain Community:
This week we have been immersed in discussions of the Colonial America Project, and in particular the slave auction posters which some students chose to create as part of the assignment. The strong response to this year’s project has deeply impacted staff and families alike, and I apologize for any unintended pain, anger or offense caused by the assignment.
Today, we became aware of an incident involving a small group of fourth grade students who were chanting the name of Adolf Hitler, in addition to finding swastikas drawn on a desk. We immediately conducted an investigation.
Unfortunately, incidents of students using hate symbols and words are taking place in schools in our district and across the country. This may be fueled by recent national rhetoric, and may also be examples of students trying to provoke a reaction without having a full understanding of the history, meaning or impact of the gestures or words they are using.
I spoke with each of the fourth grade classrooms today, and talked with students about gestures, signs and symbols that convey hate, and how the use of gestures, signs and symbols like this negatively impact our school and our community. I also met with our school social worker and we are planning morning meetings to discuss these issues in our upper grade classrooms.
At South Mountain School, we are committed to ensuring that our school community values and respects each of its members.
I am asking for your partnership and support in also having conversations with your children at home about the power of words, images and gestures. I want to share a resource with you that you may find useful:
By continuing these dialogues at home and at school, we can work together to make our community a place where all members feel welcome, safe and included.
Alyna Jacobs, Principal