Racist language, sexist language and a swastika were added to an eighth grade science document that was accessible online by students at John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton.
John Witherspoon Middle School Principal Jason Burr sent to letter to parents on Monday regarding the document, asking parents to more vigilant in monitoring their kids’ internet presence.
“The data points were replaced with student names, racially and sexually charged language, and references to an internet sub-culture that thrives on negative stereotypes,” Burr wrote, without identifying the group. “Featured prominently in the center of the document was a large swastika.”
On Oct. 30, the first day back from the class trip to Washington, D.C., eighth graders participated in a science lab, performed experiments, and input data in a Google spreadsheet on a computer at the front of a science classroom. To speed up the entry of data, all 261 eighth-grade students were given access to the spreadsheet to add data from home.
Staff members at the school reported on Friday, Nov. 3, that “dramatic, horrific, and insensitive language had been gradually inserted into this science document during evening hours over the course of the school week,” Burr wrote.
“I am deeply troubled to have to report this to all of our families today. JW remains dedicated to building partnerships with our families that thrive on open communication. We are committed to making JW more welcoming, instructionally excellent, and most importantly, a safe place for our students to live and learn,” Burr wrote. “At this time, I am imploring our families to do more than simply ask their child about this incident. It is essential that we work together to use this opportunity to encourage our students to actively stand up to messages of hate. The profane acts of a few persons have caused unnecessary harm to the school culture and to the school community.”
Burr said upstanders need to “speak against egregious examples of ignorance and hostility.” Bystanders send the signal that such examples are permissible, he wrote, calling on any students or parents with knowledge about the incident to reach out to him. It is unclear from his letter how edits to the Google spreadsheet could not be tracked to individual Gmail accounts. The ability to track users would depend on how user permissions were set up in document settings.
“I am deeply sorry to my two staff members who were thoughtful about how to recapture our students’ attention after a great Washington, D.C. trip, and on the day before Halloween, with a fun and exciting lab assignment, only to see it ruined by truly poor decision-making and gross disrespect,” Burr wrote. “And I am deeply sorry to the students who read the highly inappropriate content. I am hopeful that we can stand together against such wrongs, and stand together to promote respect for all students and cultures.”