Hannah Swird, a senior at Pikesville High School, wasn’t surprised when she heard that a recording of a man complaining about Black students and the Jewish community was alleged to be her principal.

She said she had concerns about Principal Eric Eiswert’s views of minorities before the recording came out, though she was taken aback at how explicit the comments in the recording were. While the school system is determining — and the public is debating — whether the voice in the audio actually belongs to her principal, Swird said she believes other students shared her concerns about Eiswert.

“It’s not like Eiswert was this beloved principal and this flipped their [students’] perception of him on its head,” Swird said.

Baltimore County Public Schools launched an investigation into the recording last week after it was posted by the popular Instagram account murder_ink_bmore, which named Eiswert as the sole voice.

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In the recording, the person speaking refers to “ungrateful Black kids who can’t test their way out of a paper bag,” and how hard it is to get them to meet grade-level expectations. He uses names of people who appear to be staff members and says they should not have been hired. The speaker says he should get rid of another person “one way or another.”

“And if I have to get one more complaint from one more Jew in this community, I’m going to join the other side,” the voice in the recording states.

While public officials denounced the comments while emphasizing that an investigation is underway, users on social media questioned whether it’s Eiswert saying the racist and antisemitic comments. Billy Burke, the head of Eiswert’s union, denied it was Eiswert and said the union thinks the recording was created using artificial intelligence.

Burke said in a statement Tuesday that the union — the Council of Administrative & Supervisory Employees — is “cooperating with BCPS and authorities during the investigation. Principal Eiswert denounces the words and thoughts expressed in the audio. CASE and Principal Eiswert maintain he did not make those statements and we are confident the investigation will reveal his innocence. It is discouraging that people have assumed guilt before the investigation is complete. It has proven to be dangerous and is unfair.”

He echoed the same sentiments during a county school board meeting later that night, but added that Eiswert and his family have been harassed and threatened since the recording was made public. The school system has arranged for police presence at Eiswert’s house, according to Burke.

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“Press coverage and social media have made it possible for people to make statements and tell stories with no evidence and no accountability,” he said by phone during the board’s public comment. “I didn’t feel safe coming in person because I, too, have received harassing emails.”

Eiswert did not respond to a request for comment.

LaShaune Stitt, chair of Baltimore County’s Northwest Area Education Advisory Council, also spoke about the recording at the meeting, and said she wasn’t shocked by the comments made in the audio.

“There are plenty of lemons throughout this district that create a sour learning and working environment for scholars and staff daily,” she said. “Their behavior has been overlooked or swept under the rug for years hoping that it would all go away.”

Geraldine Hastings, who used to run Catonsville High School’s social studies department when Eiswert worked there, told The Banner she doesn’t believe the voice on the audio is him.

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“That’s not Eric. Not the Eric I knew when he was in my department,” she said.

Eiswert, who used to be a social studies teacher, came to the Catonsville school as a student teacher in the late 1990s before being hired full time, she said. (His LinkedIn profile says he’s worked for the school system since 1997.) Hastings called Eiswert a nice family man who was a great teacher and “always seemed to have a good relationship with all his students.”

“I don’t think I ever heard a real negative word out of Eric’s mouth since the whole time he’s taught there,” she added. “Except maybe if a student didn’t have a hall pass.”

Kate Hamill, a former English teacher at Catonsville High, said she worked closely with Eiswert and observed him in various situations — as a colleague with a classroom down the hall, as an assistant principal and outside of school in the community.

“I never heard him say a disparaging word about anyone, student or teacher, based on race, gender or ethnic background,” she said.

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Hamill said she knew students of many races and ethnic backgrounds who sought Eiswert out for advice. Catonsville grew more diverse over the 17 years she taught there, she said, with the addition of Hispanic, Muslim and Black students. When Hamill and another staff member started a diversity program, Eiswert was one of their biggest supporters, even as some faculty pushed back.

“Eric was instrumental in helping those of us working on the issue to work on schoolwide programs to make sure all students felt included in life at Catonsville High School and the community,” Hamill said. “I have never heard him use that language about students.”

However, that’s not how some students who attended Catonsville High remembered him. DeRay Mckesson, a civil rights activist and executive director of Campaign Zero, an organization focused on ending mass incarceration and police violence, had Eiswert as a social studies teacher and student government adviser when he attended the school in the early 2000s.

“I am in no way surprised by his comments in this recording,” he posted on X to his more than 938,000 followers, adding that Eiswert should be fired and have his teaching and administrator credentials revoked.

DeAsia Bowens, a fellow Catonsville High alum, also believes it was Eiswert in the recording. He was Bowens’ assistant principal around 2015 and she said he was the “meanest” of all the administrators.

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“He definitely didn’t take any shit,” Bowens wrote in a direct message on Instagram to a Banner reporter. She remembered Black students receiving differential treatment from white students at the school, including an incident in which one of her friends was suspended and banned from prom while white students received detention or no punishment for similar misconduct.

The statements in the recording were concerning to Pikesville parent Tara Boykin, who is Black.

“I don’t have my son attend a school for him to hear his principal — the overseer, the person that’s supposed to be running the school — talk derogatory about him,” Boykin said Monday while sitting in her car in the school’s parking lot with her child, sophomore Delano Allen. “And he was speaking about test scores, yet you’re the principal. You’re the reason for the test scores.”

She said Eiswert should be working out a plan to address the disparities instead. Her son called Eiswert “phony” because “when it comes to people like that, they talk to you like they’re cool with you and then when they get angry behind closed doors, then that’s when something else comes out.”

Fred and Sabrina Schenerman also sat in their car in the lot Monday morning, listening to the recording. Fred, Sabrina’s father, is taking a current events course at his synagogue, Beth Tfiloh, and his teacher sent his class the audio to listen to ahead of the class discussion. He personally doesn’t think anyone should rush to judgement.

“We’re all human but … there’s got to be something else going on,” he said.

“I have a different opinion but it’s probably not good to put it out in the open,” Sabrina said. “I’m in the camp that it was not AI-made.”

Ryan Coleman, head of the NAACP chapter in Randallstown, said everyone is considered innocent until an investigation. But if the audio is proven to be Eiswert, Coleman is concerned about Eiswert’s bias toward Black children. Coleman said there always seems to be white people who don’t think Black students can achieve academic success.

“On the flip side, our kids aren’t achieving and, to that degree, I was happy that he was upset and showing some passion that we need to do a better job,” he said.

The Pikesville community has a strong Jewish and Black population. Swird, who is Jewish, said she and her peers are well aware of an existing gap between white and Black students academically. The latest state test data shows that 80.6% of Pikesville’s white students were proficient in 10th grade English in 2023, while only 40% of Black students were.

The senior also said she’s witnessed Black students being treated differently than white students, “mostly in the form of microaggressions.” She once asked Eiswert, who was invited to her health class for a roundtable discussion, what he was doing to help close the academic gaps and how teachers who treated Black students with bias would be held accountable.

“I can’t say exactly how he responded,” Swird said. “He was not productive.”

Liz Bowie contributed to this report.