Student’s Pride mural erased in Hackensack high school under church order

The BASCS student mural "before" the paintover by the school
The BASCS student mural "before" the paintover by the school

GSE condemns BASCS Public School over erasure 

A Pride mural created by a student at Bergen Arts & Science Charter School was painted over after the school’s landlord complained. The church-owned building has an extended history of censoring curriculum and student speech on LGBT issues. The school called the rainbow heart “offensive.” BASCS is a public school that is privately run as a charter school.

The BASCS student mural "after" the paintover by the school to remove the rainbow
The BASCS student mural “after” the paintover by the school to remove the rainbow

Garden State Equality was informed by the student, a 16-year-old high school junior at BASCS, that the school has a long history of restricting education and censoring faculty and students’ speech within the school.

Following complaints by the landlord, Holy Trinity Church, in 2018 the school abolished a long-running daily educational program. The program taught students about a unique historical figure each day. But after the school included LGBT figures during Pride Month, it ended. The school psychologist was forced to remove a poster supportive of LGBT students. The poster was already signed by faculty and students and declared the office a “safe space” for LGBT students to enter for support.

New Jersey’s LGBT-inclusive Curriculum Law passed in January 2019, and it will take effect in 2020. GSE says that as a public school, BASCS would be required to implement the law.

“It is offensive, unconscionable, and flatly unconstitutional for this church acting as a for-profit landlord to restrict a public school’s curriculum or censor student speech within those walls. This type of hate-fueled bigotry is precisely why New Jersey needs LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum to promote acceptance and understanding,” said Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino.

“Garden State Equality will never back down from fighting for LGBTQ youth,” said Fuscarino. “And we call on the Bergen Arts & Science Charter School to restore the artwork and enhance its curriculum to teach its students that hate and censorship are not welcome in New Jersey’s public schools.”

“The school’s actions in destroying a student’s artwork is rank censorship and out of step with New Jersey values and our laws. Decades ago, the United States Supreme Court held that students ‘do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,’” said Garden State Equality board member and former New Jersey State Bar Association president Thomas Prol. “It is sadly ironic that an educational institution is now delivering a lesson in censorship to these students during their tender years.”