New Jersey superintendent accused of dismissing BLM, anti-Asian hate as political issues

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Monday, March 29, 2021
NJ superintendent accused of dismissing BLM, anti-Asian hate
Students at Northern Highlands Regional High Schools say superintendent Dr. Scot Beckerman dismissed Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian bias movements.

ALLENDALE, New Jersey (WABC) -- Some students in New Jersey are calling for changes in the way their school district teaches about social justice movements after their superintendent allegedly dismissed the movements as simply political issues.

Students in New Jersey are asking for a safe space in classrooms to have an open dialogue about the anti-Asian bias happening around the country. But according to students both former and current, even that plea is being dismissed.

Students and alumni are enraged over an alleged conversation with the superintendent of Northern Highlands Regional High School.

Zach Munro, a former student, posted about the incident on on social media last week.

"I just got off the phone with the Superintendent of Northern Highlands Regional High School, Dr. Scot Beckerman, where I asked what was being done to educate students about the rise in anti-Asian hate," he said.

The alleged response: "NHRHS does not respond to political movements like Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian hate, and they are political so don't try to tell me otherwise. I believe ALL LIVES MATTER."

"I think what was really alarming to me, especially the statement anti-Asian hate and Black Lives Matter movements are political instead of human rights movements which is what they are," said student Michelle Bechtel.

Bechtel is a member of the student government and is a student representative for the Board of Education.

She says since this alleged conversation last week, she's reached out to the student body which is overwhelmingly white and overwhelming offended.

She says students want to have a safe space to talk about the issue. They say the principal has been supportive -- but not the superintendent.

"There's always this sense of normalized racism in like the way of jokes or in name calling and stuff like that, and it's not so blatant but you can always see it," said student Esther Park.

Park is a junior at the school. She says she feels marginalized, invisible and unheard.

She's describing life as an Asian American in this country.

"I've always grown up with that so I'm used to it, but now that this type of conversation has been brought up I am starting to realize that that type of normalized racism has really affected me in ways that I've never knew before," Park said. "There was never a space to talk about this type of racism against Asians."

The Board of Education quickly responded last week, saying in part... "the statements attributed to him were either not made or taken woefully out of context. It goes without saying that Dr. Beckerman is not a racist."

But students who spoke with Eyewitness News said they aren't accusing him of being a racist. They're frustrated their concerns are being silenced.

"As we see in the controversy over the newer prime 1619 project, every curriculum decision, in a sense is a political decision... I think it is especially important that students become involved, both in the discussions but also initiating the discussions, because that point very well towards a better future for our communities in the United States," said Dr. Alan Singer, Professor of Education and History at Hofstra University.

"This is the world that we live in today," Bechtel said. "Even if this area that we live in is predominantly white, that's not what the world is like outside of here and I think students here are educated enough, we are smart enough to be able to see these problems are so huge and obviously not ok."

Eyewitness News reached out to the superintendent for a response Monday and was referred back to their statement from last week.

Bechtel says she wouldn't be doing her job if she didn't raise the student body's concerns to the board's attention at a Board of Education meeting Monday night.

She added that every incident of bullying is investigated by the board, so she says this should be no different.

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