HomePrinceton PacketPrinceton Packet OpinionBlack Parents Affinity Group angry over principal's response to explicit video

Black Parents Affinity Group angry over principal’s response to explicit video

We, members of the Princeton Public School’s (PPS) Black Parents Affinity Group, express our concern and anger regarding recent events involving the publication of a disturbing video which includes images of former and current students singing racist and homophobic lyrics including the n-word.

In addition to our concern about the video, we are deeply troubled by the responses of representatives of the school district. We demand that the BOE acknowledge the harm caused by this incident and the school district’s response, investigate and address the behavior of the High School Principal Jessica Baxter, require the development of a mandatory racial literacy course in the high school and immediately review the efficacy of the Peer Group program as it relates to students of color.

In a July 12 email to the PPS community, Principal Baxter vaguely discussed the video, detailed why she was not able to appropriately address the matter and explained that she took several actions. She indicated that she met with the students in the video and their parents. She also stated that she contacted students not involved in the video.

Moreover, since the students in the video have been, or will be, Peer Group leaders, there is a clear nexus between their behavior, the principal’s actions, and disruption of the school. Taken together, Principal Baxter’s actions harm our children and worsen the racial climate of the school.

The Board of Education must show leadership and act now to remediate present and prevent perpetual harm done to our children in this district. This incident and its handling cannot be dismissed merely as a parental matter. The issues go much deeper, and demand Board of Education attention.

In her email regarding the students’ offensive singing, Principal Baxter wrote “I do not condone this…” and described being in touch with the students in the video and their families. She also described that she “hears the hurt and disappointment” of other students, and regrets that “learning and understanding is difficult to facilitate right now.” Her letter concludes that children are not perfect and that children should not have to expect to be hurt by their friends. She concludes by mentioning PHS’s commitment to “working on an online racial literacy course to be offered this coming school year.”

Sadly, this video and the principal’s inadequate response to it are part of a longer pattern with implications for the racial climate of the school and the mental health of students. Threats and intimidation harm students and disrupt learning.

Being party to intimidation of students and parents who raise legitimate concerns about the offensive video has obvious implications for the school’s climate and the disruption of education.

Our concerns go beyond the video itself and beyond adding racial literacy to the school’s racial climate, as exemplified by the fact that two or three of the young people in the video singing the n-word have been peer group leaders at PHS this past year; one of them is going to be a peer group leader this coming year. Peer group leaders are seniors selected by the school’s administration to help middle school students transition to high school. The goal is to help freshmen connect to the school. Peer group leaders are supposed to exemplify positive qualities. Yet, these student “leaders” exhibit the types of insulting behavior that has long-term effects on children in the school whether it be during or after school or during the summer break. This matter cannot be brushed off as a summer mishap. What does it say about PHS that these peer group “leaders” students are the ones featured in this offensive video? Principal Baxter does not address that issue in her message to the community. We demand that the Board of Education acknowledge that this incident and the way it has been mishandled highlights serious deficiencies at PHS, and that it indicates a pressing need for stronger support for students of color at PHS.

We need effective leadership. PHS needs true educators and leaders in this moment – leadership committed to the health, education and well-being of all students. We call on the Board of Education to acknowledge that this incident is not merely about a video. The board must look more deeply at the Peer Group program, investigate the principal’s intimidation, examine the racial climate of the school. Principal Baxter’s message to the community seeks to bury all of these issues. We call on the school board will stand with us. Our children deserve an even-handed response, fairness and justice from Principal Baxter; true leadership demands proactive support for those who are hurt, insulted, and harmed by these events.

It is simply not enough to say “I do not condone” this behavior. A principal must say what kinds of respectful behavior they expect from our students. Most important, a principal cannot be allowed to engage in the uneven practice of listening sympathetically to some voices while seeking to squelch others. This is the exact opposite of what PHS needs at this moment. We call on the school board to stand with us in denouncing this action. We demand a fair-minded investigation of the principal’s actions followed by appropriate discipline.

PHS’s racial climate is a mental health concern; the climate is made worse by the principal’s actions. Sadly, this practice is part of an insidious pattern at PHS with long-term implications for the school’s climate, for the mental health and educational experiences of Black and Brown children. The mental health of our children is a far-reaching issue that permeates every aspect of their lives. The behavior on display in this video and the indifference in the principal’s response has plagued PHS for four decades. One incident like this is already too much, but several incidents over the years is a pattern that must be remedied now. We demand that racial literacy be mandated in order to improve this troubling climate. We request that the BOE honor its commitment to improving the racial climate in PPS by committing to hiring an outside consultant to advise the district on implementing a district-wide, high-quality, comprehensive curriculum (elementary to high school) to educate PPS students on the history of African Americans and racism in America. In addition, the Board of Education must hold the school and its leaders accountable to ensure that the climate is one where all students can thrive.

Members:
Keith Wailoo

Marlen Ayodele

Rhinold Lamar Ponder

Alison Isenberg

Louise Kekulah

Lisa Frevert

Charlotte Marcus

Jennifer Lea Cohan

Jessie Bradley

Lanniece Hall

Raphael Aryeetey

Bernadette Alexander

Michelle Fuerst

Radha Chaddah

Michael S. Hall

Sharon Scipio

Basil Avery Ince

Ruha Benjamin

Reginald Wright Jr.

Supporters:
Jimi Ayodele

Zoe Brookes

Shuk Ying Chan

Lauren Clingan

Maya Aranoff

Ella Quainton

Kayleigh Rhatigan

Amy Mayer

Alix Mammina

Hugh Wilson

Z Yan Wang

Nora Schultz

Sama Ahmed

Sonya Chen

Hrishi Somayaji

Andrew Peloso

Jiya Pandya

Micah Fletcher

Alexander Jin

Paul Eberwine

Daniela Barba Sánchez

Maryjane Stewart

Elana Berk

Cara Carpenito

Dorothea von Moltke

Lynda Dodd

Lauren Meyer

Laura Getter

Katarina Stough

India Gupta

Hannah Faughnan

Heather L. Escalona

Christina Im

Estefani Hernandez

Alan Paluck

Lisa Knigge

Felicia Moore

Jenny Moore

Jennifer Sanic

Lori Troilo

Ranjit Arapurakal

Faith Bahadurian

Mic Boekelmann

Patricia Soll

Deanna Yuille

Aalya Surti

Joachim Boekelmann

Stephanie Peloso

Abigail Lifton-Zoline

Mathilde Schindler

Bruna Kleinman

Mary Saudargas

Sarah Golobish

Karen Ehee

Stephanie Oster

Ophelia Vedder

Matt Mleczko

Ashley Dart

Linda Noel

Courtney Fennimore

Maria Kelly

Diana W. Cano

Scott Cano

Valeria Torres-Olivares

Veronica Olivares-Weber

Kyara Torres-Olivares

Oscar Torres-Reyna

Suzanne Levin

Leon Rosenson

Elizabeth Holmes

Julia Troilo

David Musyimi

Katy Montoya

Stavroula Papakonstaninou

Sierra Humes

Kate Sohn

Khalid Anwar

Anjali Brunnermeier

Alyson Rowe

Eileen Emison

Robert Emison

Grace Forrest

Gail Forrest

Ermine Smith

Susan Sugarman

Aleksandar Hemon

Tracy K. Smith

Susana Draper

Leah Boustan

Shaun Marmon

Jane Cox

Monica Huerta

Elizabeth Margulis

Monica Ponce de Leon

Raphael Allison

Abby Emison

Laurence Ralph

Anna Kesson

Bill Gleason

Christina Xu

Julia Elyachar

Jenny E. Greene

Eduardo Cadava

Jacqueline Campbell

Elizabeth M. Armstrong

Neel Thakkar

Betsy Levy Paluck

Teri W. Boyd

Sarita Raghunath

Maddy Troilo

Daphne Jones

Alberto Bruzos

Emmanuel Kreike

Marilia Librandi

Caroline Jones

Elizabeth Jones

Dana Jezierny Smith

Satyel Larson

Sarah Tian

Taylor Chiang

Nicole Samios

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