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A few days after the eighth grade class at John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton traveled to the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., “racist, anti-Semitic, and sexual messages” appeared on a Google spreadsheet originally intended for an eighth grade science lab.

The eighth grade class had just returned from the trip on Oct. 30 when the spreadsheet was shared with the class. On Nov. 3, staff members at John Witherspoon reported the messages, which had been posted by anonymous commenters.

According to The Princeton Packet, two teachers shared the spreadsheet with the entire eighth grade class after the trip. The Princeton Packet story notes that the district does not know who is responsible for the messages. Superintendent of Schools Stephen Cochrane ’81 implied during a school board meeting that the district may never know.

This incident comes over a year after other racially charged incidents in the Princeton public schools, including Princeton High School students playing a drinking game they called Jews vs. Nazis in April 2016.

The investigation into the recent Google spreadsheet incident suggests that one John Witherspoon student had allegedly posted the spreadsheet on an online platform, which allowed the public to access it. Numerous individuals from across the country could have posted the messages, Cochrane explained.

Former Princeton Mayor and recent school board-elect Michele Tuck-Ponder referred to her statement in The Princeton Packet story and declined to comment further for this article. She noted in the article that the district has to engage more with the “police, clergy, and others” to prevent the “poison that we have flowing through [Princeton].”

“One of that things that we constantly struggle with is that the schools aren’t going to be able to address this issue alone. Everybody has a responsibility to respond to these bias incidents in the town,” Tuck-Ponder said during a school board meeting. “The symptoms are being exhibited by our children, but the sickness goes through all levels in the municipality.”

“As the superintendent, as a community, we are grieved and we are angered by these messages of hate,” Cochrane said at the school board meeting. He spoke in front of a screen that read, “Hate has no home here.”

Cochrane called on members of the community to stand up to injustices that they see, noting that some students had kept quiet about what they saw on the spreadsheet.

According to Planet Princeton, John Witherspoon principal Jason Burr sent a letter to parents on Nov. 13 asking for heightened awareness of their children’s internet activity.

Scott Newman contributed reporting.

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