The ongoing controversy over HiTOPS and its approach to teaching about diversity, equity and inclusion came front and center during the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Jan. 30.
HiTOPS is a nonprofit group that focuses on youth-centered sex education and support. It has a contract with the school district to teach lessons at the middle school required by the state-mandated LGBTQ and Disabilities Law and the Diversity and Inclusion Law.
But some parents have objected to HiTOPS and the lesson plans, and carried out protests in front of the Princeton Middle School in January.
During public comment at the school board meeting, parent Thomas Perc said he was troubled by what he claimed was the “unrelenting intimidation of children by some members of the audience.” He turned away from the podium to look at some of the attendees.
“They are claiming to be anti-woke, but they are choosing to intimidate children – middle-aged men who are intimidating children (by protesting in front of the Princeton Middle School),” Perc said. “I don’t care about your opinions about HiTOPS. Don’t talk to [the] children.”
Parent Luke Alberts, who was next in line to speak, said he was one of “those men.” He turned from the podium to face Perc.
“This is bogus. I am not going to defend my position,” Alberts said.
Alberts said he objected to the section of the HiTOPS curriculum on intersectionality – that all relationships are struggles for power.
“It is not an ideology that belongs in middle school,” he said. “As long as this remains, I will continue (to protest) and I will be in front of the middle school. Mr. Perc, if you have a problem with me, then you should speak to me afterwards and bring a list of children. This is nonsense.”
School board president Dafna Kendal told Alberts that he had a right to protest, but protests should be held at the school district administration offices on Valley Road.
“Decisions are made at the administration building, not at a school building,” she said.
Parents Junglien Chen and Shenwei Zhao also objected to the HiTOPS curriculum and its emphasis on intersectionality, privilege and microagression.
Chen said state mandates that the district must follow and place an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion – understanding and respecting different cultures and backgrounds.
“But that’s not what HiTOPS is offering,” Chen said. “The curriculum is about dividing children into categories of privileged and oppressed. They are taught to see each other as belonging to one group or the other.
“This isn’t a departure from our mandates. It’s a complete contradiction. It’s not education, it’s indoctrination. Parents, we need to take a stand against it.
“The children deserve an education that builds them and prepares them for the real world – not an education that tears them down and divides them.”
“It is time to reject the HiTOPS curriculum and look for alternatives that truly align with our state mandates and community values,” Chen said.
“Introducing the concepts of oppressed and privileged is dividing people into groups,” Zhao added. “The school district should not be introducing a divisive topic such as this one.
“I don’t know if there is a contract renewal coming up, but we need to at least look at the curriculum and say, ‘Just get rid of this material.'”
Kendal relayed that “the material” will continue to be taught noting the State of New Jersey requires school districts to teach the curriculum.
“We trust our educators to teach in an age-appropriate manner. Whether it is HiTOPS or another (provider), we are going to continue to teach the content,” Kendal said.