NJ schools chief backs top student whose anti-racism post angered parents
MIDDLETOWN — The township's superintendent of schools has issued public support for a high school valedictorian whose social media video about experiencing racism was met with anger by some parents.
"The racially insensitive words of a few do not represent the views of a community or our school district," Superintendent William George said in a letter Thursday, voicing support for High School North valedictorian Jada Tulloch.
The teen posted a video to Instagram Tuesday in which she expressed frustration with local attention being spent on whether there would be an in-person graduation beyond the virtual ceremony planned during the pandemic.
"For some of you, graduation may represent your academic achievements, your athletic achievements, your grand acceptance into national honors society, or you know, you just want to show off your cute graduation outfit. But for me, graduation represents the fact that I've survived years of racial discrimination, oppression and disgusting comments from the close-minded people that I surround myself with in this godforsaken town," Tulloch said in the video.
"Stop trying to invalidate the Black Lives Matter movement and the protest against police brutality by comparing the injustices faced by minorities to the 'oppression' you're facing from the Board of Ed — are you joking? Wake up, oh my God."
A number of parents reacted angrily in a thread on a private Facebook group created in April called "Middletown hsn senior page."
Frank Meade, who graduated last year from High School North, shared screenshots of the comments on Twitter. Meade is studying political science at Seton Hall University, while his sister is graduating alongside Tulloch.
"Middletown North parents invalidated a person of color’s experience with oppression and racism in the Middletown School District. Multiple parents want the valedictorian to have her graduation speech stripped away because she spoke her truth," Meade said.
As seen in the screenshots, a Facebook thread was started by Chandra Bragg Inzinna, who said "Just was chatting with my son when he played an Instagram video from the valedictorian of the Class of 2020.nice to know how highly she thinks of her fellow classmates! SMH"
Among Facebook comments, Rachel Poss wrote: "She's going to Columbia University how bad could her life really be?"
"I just watched the video. It should be sent to school administration and she should not speak at the graduation whether virtual or in person!! Absolutely disgusting!! Our town is not based on black or white. We are all equal," Deana Brooks Spencer wrote, ending with multiple exclamation points.
Tulloch later replied within the Facebook group after multiple parents commented, that she wanted to clarify that she had not felt bullied, "only taken aback by rude or ignorant behaviors and comments" she has heard, either directed to her or others. Tulloch said she has developed a strong local support system so that any “mistreatment” really goes over her head.
Superintendent George said he looks forward to Tulloch's speech at the Middletown virtual graduation June 18, noting exemplary achievements earned her the right to be chosen as valedictorian.
"Schools are microcosms of society and are reflective of our collective challenges, including systemic racism. We received correspondence from hundreds of people who wrote to denounce the social media posts on a platform not affiliated or sanctioned by the school district," George said.
"These are challenging times, but there is great opportunity for change and growth to strengthen a culture of anti-racism. It is our job as a school community to stand up and speak out against injustice. We empower our students to use their voices to represent the change they want to see in the world."
When posted to the Middletown public schools Facebook page, George's letter also received comments, included from Oscar Morales, who said: "Congratulations to Jada Tulloch on her incredible accomplishment. You are a young lady with integrity and moral compass way past your years! Don't let ugly people distract you from letting your voice be heard, use that voice and knowledge you gain to change the world! GOOD LUCK AT COLUMBIA!"
Another comment was from Heather McGrath, who said "Yes! I am glad to see administration speak in support of this young woman’s right to share her experience and to recognize that we all grow and learn by listening to others. Jada - be loud and proud, always. Congratulations on your accomplishments!"
Some Middletown students held a brief protest Monday, over the lack of a clear in-person graduation plan, despite Gov. Phil Murphy's directive that such ceremonies could take place starting July 6.
Middletown High School South Principal Matthew Kirkpatrick said he and High School North Principal Patricia Vari-Cartier met with student leaders earlier in the week to better understand their perspectives and a survey was sent to the remainder of the senior class on Thursday.
Kirkpatrick said the hope is to have a more comprehensive graduation plan by next week.
When asked about the controversy surrounding the valedictorian at HSN, Kirkpatrick said "although I am at High School South, I have communicated my philosophy related to leading a school where discrimination, prejudice, and bias are not accepted to my students, parents, and staff."
Vari-Cartier did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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