SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Lynn Irby, Principal of South Orange Middle School (SOMS), sent an email to the school community at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, about an incident that happened on Tuesday involving a 7th grade student making what Irby described as "inappropriate" and "racially charged comments during the classroom discussion."

Irby's email also addressed that there are rumors that the same student made comments while in the cafeteria, but that those rumors have not been substantiated by SOMS administration.

The issue will be addressed again next week, wrote Irby, adding that "we plan to continue the conversation in social studies classrooms to deconstruct the larger local and national issues of which this incident is a symptom."

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The full email from Irby is below:

Dear Parents and Guardians of the South Orange Middle School Community,

On Tuesday, as a follow up to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ presentation on Intentional Integration last week, one of our 7th grade social studies classes was discussing the question “Is South Orange a good place to live? Why or why not?”  The student-driven conversation raised concerns about race, diversity, and de facto segregation, and one student made racially charged comments during the classroom discussion. 

There are rumors that the student’s comments continued in the cafeteria.  Our investigation has not substantiated the rumors about the cafeteria, although inappropriate statements were made in the classroom.

The comments that were made are not representative of the core values of our district or our school.  We are addressing them with the student involved and, as always, we cannot discuss specific consequences due to confidentiality laws.

We see this as an important teachable moment, in which we, as educators, can help students understand the impact that their words can have, and the balance between an individual’s right to free speech and the responsibility to respect all members of the community. 

We are taking the following actions in response to this incident:

  • Yesterday afternoon, I met with each 7th grade team to come together as a community to heal.  I praised the students for not allowing this incident to spill over into conflict outside of class, and assured them that our primary purpose is to keep each student safe – not just physically, but emotionally safe as well.
  • We held a restorative circle today in the classroom where the conversation occurred, and plan another for Tuesday, to provide opportunities to process and repair the harm done, and help the class rebuild trust.
  • After break, we plan to continue the conversation in social studies classrooms to deconstruct the larger local and national issues of which this incident is a symptom.  This will be led by two social studies teachers who are part of the MAPSO Freedom School and have specific training in addressing these topics with students.
  • We are working with all students to reinforce SOMS’ values of inclusivity and tolerance, and our commitment to being a No Place for Hate School.

We ask for the partnership and support of our parents and guardians in talking with your children about the important role each of us has in making sure our school is a safe environment, where each student feels respected and included.

In partnership,

Lynn Irby