Northern Highlands superintendent dismisses anti-racist movements

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Dr. Scot Beckerman, the superintendent of Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, N.J. has recently caused a stir on social media and on the local news for allegedly dismissing movements like Black Lives Matter and Anti-Asian hate as political movements rather than human rights issues. 

Dr. Scot Beckerman told me, ‘[Northern Highlands Regional High School] 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. When kids get to high school, it is hard to teach them about racism, it is already ingrained into them. We do not respond to specific incidents of racism on the news or outside of the school,’” former Northern Highlands student Zach Murno wrote on Facebook. 

Some of the comments under Murno’s post noted how the school is filled with “white entitlement,” “racism” and “ignorance.” Others commented that Beckerman’s response was “disgusting,” “disrespectful” and that it was a “pitiful response.” Another student called the social climate of the school “snobby” and “toxic.” 

Five days after Murno’s initial post, the Board of Education at Highlands put out a statement on their website saying that the district stands against “racism, violence, and hate.” However, Beckerman refused to recount what the conversation with Murno actually said.

“As the individual was as rude and disrespectful as any current or former student I have encountered in my 29 years in education, I would prefer to not recount that discussion, item by item, but rather focus on the importance of this topic,” Beckerman wrote in his statement.

He then went forth to describe all of the items that the district has done to implement anti-racist measures within the school system.

“I will end by saying that certain people who share our values choose to go about advocating for them in a destructive manner. The former student who made those defamatory statements about me and our conversation appear to be one of those people. However, that will not deter this District or me, as its Superintendent, from condemning racism and hate of any kind, and we will continue to provide our students and staff with the skills necessary to combat bias, prejudice and intolerance in all forms,” he wrote at the end of his statement.

I spoke to former Northern Highlands teacher Patrick Brennan who taught at Highlands for 25 years and was the grievance chairman to represent the members of the union. When asked about the magnitude of white privilege in the Highlands community, Brennan was willing to comment.

“The white privilege was not instilled at Highlands, it was brought there," Brennan said. "Where the school administration failed was not bringing different viewpoints to the table and opening a discussion about it. There was absolutely an air of white privilege felt from parents and students alike.” 

He also shared his opinion about Beckerman’s response.

“It is my belief that Scot Beckerman responded the way he did because he is a leader that is afraid of committing to an answer. Many times in meetings, he would need to check with the school's attorney before he'd answer questions that he should have, as the superintendent, known the answers to," he said.

"On one particular occasion, he asked for an extension on a matter before him and told me he wanted to take the weekend so he could 'search Google for the answer to the question.' That doesn't instill confidence in your leader," Brennan continued. "I think the same thing happened here. Rather than commit to a stance in the affirmative or negative he chose to waffle because I don't think he knew what to answer.”

Brennan also shared his view on how the situation should have been handled.

“I think students like to be spoken to frankly and honestly," he said. "They look to their educators for guidance and the tools they need to find the answers. We as educators have a great responsibility to young people in this regard. I think what has the students at the school reeling is that they felt that the response was inadequate and not reassuring. A conversation could have been opened with an honest exchange of dialogue and sadly, that moment has passed.”

The message that Beckerman sent to his students, whether these allegations are true or not, is that there is no open discussion for human rights issues for students. If I was a student at Highlands, I would be incredibly disappointed and disheartened at the response from the superintendent.

Even his statement at the Board of Education meeting seemed rushed and as if it was a written script to defend his reputation rather than being from the heart to support these communities within the district. These matters need to be addressed in high schools and even in early education.

It is never too late to educate on anti-racism and the privilege that the white community has. There should be an internal look into racial bias’ and the privilege that each individual member of the community has. Scot Beckerman needs to do better and needs to apologize to all of the members of the community that he has hurt with his words and actions.