Community Conversation rescheduled at Hopewell Valley High


In the wake of a racially-charged incident involving Hopewell Valley Central High School students that occurred in December, school district officials are holding a community conversation on March 9 at the high school cafeteria to discuss race, district programs and civic responsibility.

The community conversation had been set for Feb. 16, but it was rescheduled for March 9 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Free childcare will be available, and light refreshments will be provided by the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation.

The need for a community conversation was sparked by Snapchat social media posts sent by a white Hopewell Valley Central High School student to his friends that were demeaning to black students. The student who sent the Snapchat posts was suspended as a result of the incident, which occurred in December.

In a letter posted to the school district website following the incident, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith wrote that he had spoken to parents, staff, students and community leaders, who shared school district officials’ concerns about what had occurred.

The incident does not appear to be an isolated one, but instead reflects a pattern that continues to occur, he wrote, adding that it is “our responsibility as a community to own and address the underlying issues.”

“This recent incident was hurtful to our school community, but especially so for our students of color. When I spoke to the victim and his parents, we agreed that we can use this experience as an opportunity to raise awareness and proactively respond to an issue that has existed in our community since its inception,” Smith wrote.

Smith said the school district will do its part, but “lasting and impactful change” can only occur through a greater community commitment – and that is why a community conversation is needed.

To that end, the school district is working with community leaders that represent diverse facets of the Hopewell Valley, experts in the field of cultural competency and municipal leaders who have been asked to gather for the March 9 meeting, he wrote.

In the meantime, steps have been taken toward the development of a more culturally sensitive school community, Smith wrote.

Those steps include seeking out qualified educators of color through CJPRIDE – the Central Jersey Program for the Recruitment of Diverse Educators – and through mandatory professional staff development around cultural competency, racial literacy and disproportionality.

The school district also is revising its K-12 curriculum to educate and reflect on its cultural diversity. Community residents have addressed students, the school board and staff about the long-standing black community and its history in the Hopewell Valley, Smith wrote.

And beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, all high school freshman history classes will include conversations about race and racial literacy, according to the superintendent of schools.