MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Racist and derogatory language was used in a classroom and sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic graffiti was found in a bathroom at Columbia High School (CHS) on Wednesday, according to an email sent to CHS families at about 5:45 p.m.

The email, which was signed by South Orange Maplewood School District Superintendent John Ramos, and CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron, is as follows:

Dear Columbia High School families:

Sign Up for E-News

We write to inform you of two incidents that occurred at Columbia High School today.  

In a classroom, students were allegedly using racist and derogatory language, specifically calling each other “n****s,” “b***s” and “hoes.”  In addressing the students’ use of these words, the teacher reportedly used the same words.  If true, this was clearly unacceptable and will be addressed according.  One of our administrators will be joining the class tomorrow to follow up on the incident.

In a separate incident, graffiti was discovered in a student bathroom that included the words “KKK for Nazis,” other sexist and racist words, and an image of a swastika.

Administrators are investigating both incidents so that we can ascertain the facts and determine what disciplinary action may be appropriate, based on the code of conduct and our personnel procedures and union contract guides.  The graffiti incident was also reported to Maplewood police for their own investigation.

We know that these and other recent incidents do not reflect the values of the SOMSD student body or staff as a whole, or the values of the South Orange and Maplewood communities. They do, however,  highlight the work we still have to do as a community to make sure our young people know that there is no place for derogatory, racist or anti-Semitic language or images in our classrooms and other school facilities, or in our community, and that they will not be tolerated. 

Recent meetings between CHS leaders, staff and Black Student Union members have focused on how to build student and teacher competencies around the use of the “N” word in particular, since it is widely accepted by many students for a variety of reasons.  We ask for families’ support in helping students understand the pain that this word causes, and that it is not accepted at CHS, regardless of who is using it or their intent.

We are also reminding staff in all of our schools to make sure all of our communications with students, families and each other reflect our commitment to inclusivity and the cultural competency training that we have received. 

Hate speech and images do not happen in a vacuum, and are not confined to our school buildings.  This is a family issue, a community issue, and a national issue, in addition to most certainly being a school issue.  Adults must take responsibility.  We once again ask for the partnership of all parents, guardians and community members in helping students understand the impact their words, images and actions can have on other individuals and on our communities.