PRINCETON: Middle school project vandalized with racist, anti-Semitic messages

Princeton schools logo 6/11/15

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
A Google spreadsheet created for a science lab at John Witherspoon Middle School was “vandalized” with racist, anti-Semitic and sexual messages, Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said Tuesday of an incident officials had learned of recently.
He said the document had been created by two teachers “and made available to the entire eighth-grade class” — a group that had recently traveled to Washington D.C. to visit the National Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“As the superintendent, as a community, we are grieved and we are angered by these messages of hate,” Cochrane said during the school board meeting, with a message reading “Hate has no home here” displayed on a screen behind him.
He said the district was “unsure” if the messages were put on the spreadsheet by district students, and he offered that officials might never know who was responsible.
“Our investigation has suggested that one student at JW posted the spreadsheet to an online platform and thereby opened it to the world,” he said. “It was subsequently hacked with messages of hate. But those messages could have come from anywhere in our country and likely included numerous individuals.”
He said the district is investigating, but he did not elaborate on the specific content of the messages. News reports said they included a swastika.
Cochrane sounded troubled that students kept what they saw to themselves.
“What we do know is that our students watched it happen and, for whatever reason, struggled to report it to their parents, their teachers, their principal,” he said.
Cochrane said JW Principal Jason Burr had written to parents of eighth-graders, intended to meet with students to discuss the incident and had reached out to a representative from the Anti-Defamation League for help.
The school board meeting drew a larger than normal crowd, including Rabbi Adam Feldman, leader of the Jewish Center, the synagogue on Nassau Street. One woman, during public comment, touched on other issues at the middle school.
“And I’m pleased that we’re not treating this as an isolated event, because, unfortunately, it is not an isolated event,” Kim Marks said to Cochrane and the school board. “This is not even the second event of this nature that we’ve had at JW since the beginning of the school year. And this is an alarming trend, and it’s moving at a pace that we need to check.”
She did not elaborate on the other incident that have taken place so far this year.
The community has had to confront earlier incidents, including the revelation, in 2016, that some Princeton High School students were playing a Jews vs. Nazis beer pong game at a private home
Former Princeton Township Mayor Michele Tuck-Ponder, who won a seat on the school board in last week’s election, touched on “this poison that we have flowing through our town” and sought to have the district engage with police, clergy and others.
“And one of that things that we constantly struggle with is that the schools aren’t going to be able to address this issue alone. Everybody has a responsibility to respond to these bias incidents in the town,” she said. “The symptoms are being exhibited by our children, but the sickness goes through all levels in the municipality.”
Her daughter, Jamaica, then a Princeton High School student, exposed the drinking game by writing about it on the Internet.
Earlier in the meeting, Cochrane touched on the steps the district has taken to be more inclusive. But he urged the public to “stand against the injustices” people see in their daily lives.
“I’m calling on our entire community to take the incidents of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism that are in our world and in our local community seriously,” he said. “We can stop the hateful rhetoric and the disregard that we see spreading. We can create a culture that values and respects all people.”