By Lily Wolfson
New York City, New York
On December 14, 2019, the Instagram account @nycprivateschoolwatch published its first post: a screenshot of a May 2019 Post headline about The Spence School. The account has since garnered over 2,000 followers and posted nearly 150 times. The account focuses on the implementation and criticism of anti-racism reforms of New York City–based independent schools.
The bio of the account reads: “Anonymous watch group to report/learn/share what is happening behind the doors of our NYC Private Schools.” The Nightingale-Bamford School, The Brearley School, The Chapin School, The Grace Church School and The Dalton School are among the dozens of Manhattan independent schools featured on the account.
The account’s most recent post is a screenshot of a Marymount School of New York Instagram post. The Marymount post read, “Marymount celebrates LGBTQ+ Visibility Week” and featured a heart comprised of LGBTQIA+ pride flags with the words “love”, “acceptance” and “advocacy” surrounding it. The @nycprivateschoolwatch account’s repost was captioned: “Marymount is all in! But we have to note- where is the IA in the LGBTQ? Maybe they aren’t so woke after all!!! #woke #sexualalphabet #competitionwhatschoolismostwoke”.
On Thursday, the account posted about The Collegiate School’s logo change. The account was decidedly not in favor of the choice made by Collegiate’s History and Symbols Task Force:
“The stripping of Dutch heritage in honor of DEI,” read the caption. The Iris reached out to two Collegiate seniors for comment, and neither student had seen the account.
A recent topic the account covered was a letter written by Andrew Gutmann, a Brearley parent, which he snail mailed to hundreds of members of the Brearley community. Gutmann has made the decision not to re-enroll his daughter at the school for the 2021-2022 academic year due to the school’s “obsession with race” and anti-racism reforms.
The @nycprivateschoolwatch account posted in support of Gutmann, writing in an Instagram caption, “Bravo Mr. Gutmann! You have many supporters- Thank you for your courage!” Shortly after, the account posted a screenshot of Brearley Head of School Jane Fried’s response to Gutmann’s letter. That post was captioned: “Brearley’s response to Mr. Gutmann. Wow… proves his point even more… ”. Fried had no comment on the matter when The Iris reached out via email.
Yassie Liow (Brearley ’21) wrote a rebuttal to Gutmann’s letter in The Iris. It has received mixed responses. “I don’t know if any of the comments were explicitly linked with [@nycprivateschoolwatch], but with most things there’s been some positive responses and some negative ones,” Liow said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to people who put their opinions respectfully without ad hominem attacks. There have been a decent amount of those, unfortunately.”
A survey sent to Nightingale middle school students elicited a critical response from @nycprivateschoolwatch. On April 16, the account posted screenshots of the survey, which inquired about health and LGBTQIA+ education and captioned the post, “Recently sent to all Nightingale middle school girls without parent knowledge. The girls are as young as 10 up to 14. Is this appropriate? Many NBS parents think not and want to know what is Nightingale’s agenda? The girls do not need to be burdened with this at such a young age.”
Many Nightingale seniors took to the comment section of the post to voice their opposition to the post. Among the comments from Nightingale seniors are “@nycprivateschoolwatch there must be a better use of your time…?”, “Agenda?? You mean inclusive education.”, “This is embarrassing”, “don’t have kids if you’re not ready to speak about these issues with them” and more. The account responded to several of the students, in some cases addressing the students by their full names and mentioning their teachers and the colleges they plan to attend in the fall.
About one Nightingale student who commented, the account said, “...This is a Nightingale- Bamford child/student who has forgotten her manners and her school/online conduct code...[student’s name] NBS Class of 2021 is in violation of all.” There is no evidence that the student broke any part of Nightingale’s online conduct code.
Another student commented, “NBS students are raised to stand up for what we believe in not to be ‘proper.’ It’s not the 50s anymore.”
In another reply to a student, the account named Nightingale’s Head of Upper School Andrea Kassar. Three seniors met with Kassar; Nightingale’s Head of School, Paul Burke and Nightingale’s Diversity and Equity Director, Johara Sealy, to discuss the account.
Four Nightingale seniors who commented on the account’s post shared their thoughts with The Iris. “It definitely felt intimidating to have these grown adults, even parents, dropping insults and threats,” Audrey Jarnagin said. “I am glad to have so much support from NBS, so I don’t feel scared or threatened anymore.”
Briana Scarborough said, “I do think people are a bit worried that there are Nightingale parents who are monitoring their children’s emails and school discussions so closely. Most independent schools, including Nightingale, are working hard to make their communities more inclusive, and the fact that there are parents fighting so hard against it is concerning.”
When Emma Clift came across the post about the Nightingale survey, she sent it to the senior class group chat to find out what her peers thought about it. Clift described the post as “kind of ignorant and pretty homophobic” and decided to leave a comment.
“To be honest, this is just a bunch of anonymous parents and also like some random users on Instagram who are just commenting the stuff about our school and making these assumptions,” Clift said. “I think if they actually wanted to be like a reputable account they wouldn’t be…hiding behind usernames.”
In response to speculation that Nightingale parents might be behind the account, Clift said, “I do think Nightingale does need to be aware that there are parents from the school that follow this account who are sending in tops...and who might even run this account, so that’s really the problem they need to be aware of. And they need to confront these parents who are spreading hate and have conversations with them.”
Indonesia Omega, co-head of Nightingale’s Inclusivity Board, was among the seniors who met with Nightingale administrators about the account. Omega believes that “everyone is entitled to have their opinions regarding the education their children receive… but there is a constructive way to give that input.”
“Directing your confusion and anger onto students standing up for the LGBTQ+ classmates in the comments of a, quite frankly, homophobic post is disgusting and childish,” Omega said. “Parents on this page seem to think Nightingale is ‘corrupting’ their kids with its liberal agenda forcing BLM and ‘inappropriate’ conversations regarding the LGBTQ+ community down middle schoolers throats.”
Omega is proud that Nightingale is “being inclusive of the queer community in its health curriculum.” It is “about having inclusive, age-appropriate conversation.”
Omega’s “main concern” is for the children of the parents who are running and commenting on the account. “What if their child wants to have these conversations? What if their own child is queer? These surveys regarding the health curriculum were sent to students to gauge their interest and express what they want to learn about,” Omega said. “And a parent, presumably, went through their child’s email to make sure that their child wouldn’t have this opportunity.”
During a conversation with Nightingale administrators, Kassar made “an analogy that centered the conversation. She compared the changes Nightingale, and many other [predominantly white institutions], is making to a home renovation. In the past, Nightingale has taken an ‘add more rooms’ approach instead of a ‘gut renovation’ approach.”
According to Omega, Burke said in the meeting that he hopes Nightingale can “‘live our mission instead of just pursuing it.’”
In a statement to The Iris, Burke said, “Nightingale’s leadership takes constructive feedback relating to the school seriously, and as an opportunity for dialogue. As always, our main priority is educating and empowering the minds and hearts of our students while creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all.”
The @nycprivateschoolwatch account remains active and anonymous. Because it has sparked conversations within schoolhouses and has gained the attention of independent school students, many expect the account to grow more popular.
The @nycprivateschoolwatch account did not reply to numerous requests for comment.