BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Racism has dominated national headlines since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May, and it came close to home during a recent Bridgewater-Raritan board of education meeting.
Board member Zachary Malek said there is a public page on Instagram where local students and staff have posted at least 80 instances of racism that have allegedly occurred in the Bridgewater-Raritan school district.
“I assume there are many more by now,” said Malek, himself a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School. “Racism is embedded in the district.”
He suggested that his fellow board members should read the posts on the page, some of which he labeled as “shocking.” He also said he could attest to having personally faced racism during his own school days, due to his half-Pakistani, half-white heritage.
“The racism I faced pales in comparison to other minorities,” said Malek, who said that the school board needs to implement greater reforms.
His list of suggested reforms included more professional development and racial bias training for staff; reporting of HIB incidents, including those against educators; use of punitive measures and increased usage of restorative justice; hiring of outside consultants to help with related conversations; increased mental health resources and guidance counselors; greater mental health visibility; checking of personal biases; working with union leadership for equity in the district; removal of requirements, such as enrollment in honors or Advanced Placement classes; and having more minority pieces of literature embedded in the curriculum.
“We’re supposed to teach ‘one and all,’” said Malek, referring to the district’s motto.
He also said he was not condemning the next generation, but that he wanted to give back to Bridgewater-Raritan with his own experiences, including the negatives.
“The district must act now,” said Malek, “to ensure a more equitable future for all its students.”
Malek added that there is really no way to validate specific student experiences on the page.
The address for the Instagram page is www.instagram.com/bipoc_at_br/. BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous and (other) People of Color.
The page includes short stories from a number of students, including Asian, Black, Indian and Latino pupils, and their purported experiences with racism from other students in the district. It also includes several criticisms of unnamed teachers, for perceived racial slurs against non-white students, or for allegedly favoring white students over their non-white counterparts.
Board member Steve Singer said he was trying to find an H.I.B. (Harassment-Intimidation-Bullying) form online, to no avail.
“It’s not readily apparent,” he said.
School board vice president Jill Gladstone commended Malek for his efforts.
“We have to look inside ourselves now,” she said, and added that the situation could be discussed at the board’s retreat.
The rest of the board thanked Malek for bringing the information to the forefront, and added it was an important discussion to have.