A Bergen County school already unsettled by the suspension of its principal earlier this year is now dealing with a pair of bias incidents -- one a racial slur written in a boy’s bathroom and another an anonymous email to a staffer that “signifies slavery.”
Police and school district officials in Wyckoff said they were working together to determine who was responsible for the bias incidents at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School.
“Sadly there have been several incidents of racism, cultural insensitivity and an overall lack of acceptance for those who appear to be different than ourselves,” Vice Principal Christopher Giordano said in a YouTube video shown to students as school began Thursday.
The bathroom slur was found along with feces left in the sinks and urine on the floors, Acting Principal Grace White added.
The bathroom incident was recorded and shared among students, she noted.
This follows an incident last week in which an Eisenhower staff member received a message “targeting them with words that signify slavery and racism” from “someone with knowledge of this person’s email,” Giordano said.
Police and administrators were “pursing those involved” in both incidents, he said.
“As a school we do not stand for this insensitivity,” Giordano said. “Schools are safe places. Schools should bring comfort and not anxiety.”
The vice principal spoke heartfully of how race, orientation and other “things that stand out” should be considered a gift and not a difference.
Administrators are trying to do what they can, he said – recently beginning a unit on slavery in the 8th grade, for instance, as well as a discussion in the 7th about colonialism and in the 6th about “the social structures of aging civilizations.”
There’s an eye in each of these toward examining how societies “express dominance and hatred over other people who seem to be different,” Giordano said.
He urged students to make friends with new and different people and to “learn from the mistakes of others.”
White, meanwhile, noted that school had to be stopped Wednesday to address the bathroom vandalism.
“If you are outraged, if you are disgusted by these actions, you are in the right school,” she said.
On the other hand, “if you can’t treat one another with respect, you should leave Eisenhower School,” the acting principal emphasized. “It’s not the place for you.
“If you can’t treat someone from another race, another gender, another sexual orientation, someone who is a different color with respect, you need to leave," she told students, urging them to record her words with their cellphones. “There is no room at Eisenhower School for your disrespectful ideas, your disrespectful actions and your disrespectful words."
White became acting principal after Principal Christopher Iasiello was suspended with pay earlier this year.
District officials said they were investigating allegations that Iasiello participated in a "sexting" investigation involving his daughter and other students, among other alleged offenses.
Iasiello has appealed to the state education commissioner for reinstatement. An administrative law judge said last month that she’ll advise the commissioner that the Wyckoff Board of Education doesn't have to reinstate him while the investigation is still ongoing.
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