NJ superintendent accused of dismissing BLM, anti-Asian hate

Students who spoke with Eyewitness News said they aren't accusing the superintendent of racism, but they're frustrated their concerns are being silenced.

Video Transcript

- Well, two students in New Jersey are calling for changes in the way their school district teaches about social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and Anti-Asian Hate. It comes after the students say their superintendent dismissed their concerns. Eyewitness News reporter CeFaan Kim live in Allendale with the story. CeFaan.

CEFAAN KIM: Well, David, there is this conversation about anti-Asian bias happening around the country. So naturally, young adults want to be part of the dialogue. Well, here in Allendale, students say they want a safe space inside classrooms to have that discussion. But students, both current and former, say that plea is being dismissed.

It is an alleged conversation with the superintendent of Northern Highlands Regional High School in New Jersey that has students and alumni enraged. Zach Munro, a former student, posting on social media last week, "I asked what was being done to educate students about the rise in anti-Asian hate." The alleged response, the high school "does not respond to political movements like Black Lives Matter or Anti-Asian Hate, and they are political so don't try to tell me otherwise. I believe all lives matter."

MICHELLE BECHTEL: The Anti-Asian Hate and Black Lives Matter movements are human rights movements.

CEFAAN KIM: Michelle 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 overwhelmingly offended. She says students want to have a safe space to talk about the issue.

ESTHER PARK: There's always this sense of normalized racism in the way of jokes or in name calling and stuff like that. And it's not so blatant, but you can always see it.

CEFAAN KIM: Esther Park is a Junior at the school. She says she feels marginalized, invisible, unheard. She's describing life as an Asian-American in this country.

ESTHER PARK: 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 type of normalized racism has really affected me in ways that I never knew before.

CEFAAN KIM: The Board of Ed 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 we spoke with aren't accusing him of being a racist. They're frustrated their concerns are being silenced.

ALAN SINGER: 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.

MICHELLE BECHTEL: Even if this area 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 that these problems are so huge.

CEFAAN KIM: Now, we reached out to the superintendent today for a response. We were referred to a response from last week. By the way, there is a scheduled Board of Ed meeting today at 7 o'clock. Michelle Bechtel says that she wouldn't be doing her job if she didn't raise the student body's concerns with the board tonight. She adds that every incident of bullying is investigated by the board. And so, she says, this should be no different.