After students share stories of discrimination and bigotry on social media, Principal Condon reports claims to DOE for investigation

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This week, Townsend Harris ranked first in New York and fifth nationally in the US News & World Report 2020 Best High Schools Rankings. While many faculty members and students were celebrating this achievement, some took to social media to share experiences of racism and discrimination at THHS that they felt the rankings hid. One alumna’s Instagram page began cataloguing student-to-student and teacher-to-student incidents in response to an open question she shared publicly. The Classic can report that Principal Brian Condon has reported the allegations that have surfaced on Instagram to the Department of Education. 

Mr. Condon said, “Bigotry in all forms is antithetical to our value system and we’re going to continue to work to root it out wherever it appears in our school community.” He and the administration are reviewing the claims. He said, “The DOE has a process and system into which we report these claims. There is a protocol in terms of how we go about investigating them. So I will do what I have always done, which is follow the Department of Education and its requirements around reporting, investigating, and addressing concerns that are substantiated. …We’ve already reported this and we’re waiting for the next steps.”

Class of 2018 alumna Jayden Fuller started the Instagram forum for any alumni and current students who have encountered instances of racial insensitivity and prejudice within the Townsend Harris community. She has shared posts since Tuesday and hosted a live discussion with fellow Class of 2018 alumna Tamanna Saidi and Class of 2019 alumna Safiatu Diagana on Thursday night, which had, at times, over 200 viewers. 

“This is something that has been rampant within the Townsend Harris community,” Jayden said during her livestream. “Students and faculty have been complacent in creating a hostile environment for black, Latinx, LGBT+ people, and other marginalized groups. While the breadth of bigotry is huge, we are focusing on the rampant racism that Townsend actively fosters in this community… Please continue sharing your stories, experiences, and anything else that you have to offer.” 

Jayden and Tamanna declined to comment further to The Classic.

Safiatu felt inspired to talk after recent reports of racist videos shared on TikTok and social media.

“Unfortunately, these racist videos reminded me about the unspoken culture of Townsend Harris and how various students would make comments like these or even [worse] ones, so I decided to shed some light on it,” she said. She is calling on the THHS community to present concrete solutions “rather than providing one ‘safe’ space to speak.”  She proposes better mental health resources for students and mandated diversity training for the faculty “to understand the power they hold over students of color and how their actions, harmful or not, can impact them.”

Many students have responded by reposting the experiences shared on Jayden’s platform on their own social media using the hashtag #NotMyTownsend.

Earlier today, Mr. Condon sent out a letter to the Townsend Harris community in response to the postings. He proposed a four-step process that the community will be taking in order to improve the situation. The process involves creating a safe forum for students and alumni to share their stories, and engaging the school community to set goals and create an “action plan” to meet those goals.

After this proposal, he wrote: “We are committed to creating a space for courageous conversations to take place. We will continue promoting respect for the multiple perspectives we each bring to our community. I also want to make it very clear to each member of our community that harassment will not be tolerated.” 

UFT chapter leader Franco Scardino has not seen the comments, but has seen Mr. Condon’s letter and said, “This is a very disturbing incident no matter how one looks at it. Bigotry, racism, and bullying have no place in our school and in society in general. We are each responsible to speak up. People who have been victimized must have their voices heard and the incidents investigated.” 

Mr. Scardino has faith that the DOE will investigate these matters. “The DOE protocols to report and investigate are pretty clear…. Mr. Condon has already sent out a letter to the school community, and I am sure the Office of Special Investigation will be in touch with the former and current students who have spoken up and with the teachers named.”

We reached out to the NYC Department of Education for comment on the investigative process. The DOE did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Mr. Condon encouraged students with other experiences to share to reach out to his administration or to any staff member in the school community as they are required to report any alleged acts of bigotry. He said, “I offer my deepest sympathy, condolences, and apologies and, rest assured that it is a top priority for us to change this at Townsend Harris and live up to our statements of being accepting, open, belonging, and inclusive in our school.”

This is a developing story. The Classic will be continuing its coverage next week.