Editor’s note: this article has been updated with comment from Supt. John Ramos and BOE President Elizabeth Baker:
A second racist message was found written in a bathroom at South Orange Middle School on Wednesday, according to an email from Principal Lynn Irby.
The message, which Irby did not describe, comes just one day after the administration discovered a slur that read “Naughty N***ers Get Lynched” on the inside of a door inside of one of the girls’ bathrooms.
The South Orange Police Department is investigating both incidents as hate crimes, Irby said. A “town hall” meeting with 7th and 8th graders was held Tuesday after the initial incident, and a similar meeting took place for 6th graders on Wednesday, Irby said.
In addition, the administration is “continuing to reach out to community leaders so that we can partner together to address incidents and attitudes of bias…,” Irby said.
“Schools are a microcosm of society and thus not immune to what is going on in the greater context of the nation right now,” said SOMSD Supt. Dr. John Ramos in a statement to Village Green. “That said, our community, and certainly our school district, will not abide by stigmatism or bias of any kind.”
He continued, “SOMSD is committed to ensuring that our schools are safe places for all of our students. We have retained an anti-bias consultant, Dr. Khyati Joshi, to support our efforts in creating positive, bias-free cultures in all of our schools. For the past 3 years, we have dedicated a substantial portion of our professional development budget to training administrators and teachers in anti-bias education, social justice, and culturally responsive classrooms. In addition to providing teachers with the tools they need to create inclusive environments for their students, we also provide a host of opportunities directly to students themselves. This has recently included “Who Belongs” assemblies in our elementary schools, “It Starts with Hello” programming in grades K-8, “A Day of Kindness,” “Week of Respect” in all of our schools, and many other initiatives.”
Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker said, “Our School Board and District are committed to ensuring that the civil rights and human dignity of every child and every adult in our school community are respected. Hate, prejudice and intimidation have no place in our inclusive educational community. The wave of recent of bias incidents both nationally and locally underscore how urgent the antibias and restorative justice work that we are doing in our schools is. This work is, and must remain, a top priority for our schools and our broader SOMa community.
Just as in the past, we will work with community members and agencies as well as with each other to ensure that we are supporting our students on these matters in the most deliberative, substantive and constructive way possible.”
See Irby’s full email below:
Dear SOMS Community,
I am saddened to share that we found a similar racist message in another bathroom today.
We reported this to the SOPD as a bias incident, and the SOPD has already begun an investigation.
We are continuing the work which I described yesterday to address these specific issues and to foster inclusivity and acceptance. We held a 6th grade town hall today to talk about the hateful graffiti words and the hurtful impact they have on us both as individuals and as a school community. Classroom discussions are ongoing. I am also continuing to reach out to community leaders so that we can partner together to address incidents and attitudes of bias, and to promote respect and value for the commonalities and differences between the various members of our SOMS and larger communities.
I was heartened to hear from many students today that conversations occurred at home last night and I thank you for that.
Together we can bring about change.
Lynn A. Irby