Two local parents stood outside Princeton Middle School on Thursday morning before the start of school to protest the presence of
HiTOPS at the school this week. HiTOPS is a Princeton-based nonprofit that provides sex education and LGTBQ+ programs for young people in schools in New Jersey.
Acting Superintendent of Schools Kathie Foster sent an email to parents about the incident late Thursday morning
“During student arrival, a school employee observed two individuals known to district officials conducting a protest by holding signs opposing the HiTOPs program,” Foster wrote. “Princeton Police were notified and were helpful in relocating the individuals farther away from the main entrance to avoid any disruption during student arrival. The protesters left the area after arrival.”
Foster wrote that for the well-being of students, counseling services would be available to any student in need of support. There will be a police presence at the school at dismissal time to ensure a safe and orderly dismissal.
“Counseling was offered because many students see HiTOPS as synonymous with support of LGBTQIA+ and seeing signs to say end their programming might be hurtful to some. Students also saw a police presence, which might cause confusion,” District Spokeswoman Lori Perlow wrote in an email in response to questions from Planet Princeton.
Princeton Middle School Principal Jason Burr sent an email to staff members about the protest Thursday afternoon.
“I want to remind everyone that people are afforded the constitutional right to peaceful protest on public sidewalks,” Burr wrote. “There were two protesters on our sidewalks this morning. It is our understanding that they were here protesting the presence of HiTOPS at our school.”
Burr said school officials worked with the police, building security staff, and the custodial team to monitor what happened when students arrived. “Princeton Police shared that they have a lot of experience with protesters in town, and armed with that experience, they responded by moving the two protesters further from our entrance. Please note that the protesters may return.”
Burr wrote that school officials were following up on some information that a student was approached by one of the protesters and was asked some questions about their name, what grade they are in, and other information.
“From our view, this does not meet the requirements or the spirit of peaceful protest. We do not condone any action where our students are being approached and asked questions,” Burr wrote. “Additionally, it is alleged that this protester was recording on his phone. Police have been informed and will be following up with administration throughout the remainder of the day and will be a presence in the morning. Students who seem disconcerted or nervous should be permitted to check in with their counselor.”
Junglien Chen, who identified himself in an email as one of the two parents who protested, claimed that he and the other protester did not approach any children or ask them for any information. He also said they did not use their phones to record anything during the protest.
“We did take a picture of us with our posters when there were no students present and this took place six feet away from the two police officers that were still there,” he wrote. “If Mr. Burr was so concerned about what had happened according to his statement why didn’t he or the police address with us these allegations today when we returned this morning? The reason they didn’t is because it never happened!”
State laws about sex education and diversity education
Students can be opted out of health and physical education sex education teaching, but cannot be opted out of the following instruction under New Jersey law. The two state laws on the issue:
- LGBT and Disabilities Law: (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-4.35) A board of education shall include instruction on the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, in an appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high school students as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.
- Diversity and Inclusion Law: (N.J.S.A.18A:35-4.36a) Each school district shall incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion (including sexual and gender identity) in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students K-12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.
“These mandates are separate from the NJDOE’s Health and Physical Education standards and students may not opt out,” Perlow wrote in her email response to Planet Princeton. “These lessons help us fulfill the mandates, but they are not the only ways the district includes these topics.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said Princeton Middle School Principal Jason Burr sent an email to parents about the protest Thursday afternoon. The email was sent to staff.