MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Two girls from Middle Township High School are being investigated after sharing a social media post containing racist language.
Superintendent David Salvo, reached by phone Thursday, said he could not comment further on the details of the investigation. Salvo said he could not say what disciplinary action was taken against the students except that it was being handled appropriately.
According to a Facebook post from Salvo on Thursday morning, the district became aware of the situation Wednesday. They said the student’s post on social media contained “a very inappropriate image which contained clearly offensive racist language.”
The photo shows a white student smiling and posing, crouched over a racial epithet spray painted on a wooden platform, which Salvo said was located in Avalon.
“As a school district and community, we do not condone or accept such language or offensive behavior,” Salvo wrote.
Avalon Police Chief Jeff Christopher confirmed the incident occurred at a private property in the borough.
“Late last night, we were contacted by the Middle Township Police Department investigating an incident. MTPD informed us that two juveniles had posted a picture on social media of themselves with a racial slur spray painted in the background,” Christopher wrote in an email. “We can confirm that the picture was taken in an empty swimming pool located on private property in Avalon, and that the juveniles were trespassing.”
He wrote that the property’s caretaker has been notified and is in the process of removing the graffiti.
The image was initially shared to an Instagram account and subsequently shared by others upset about it over various social media platforms, including Facebook. Much of the anger was directed toward the student in the photo, and not the second student who took the photo.
Middle Township High School serves more than 700 students from the township’s many unincorporated communities, as well as Stone Harbor, Avalon, Dennis Township and Woodbine.
The district’s website touts “Diversity is Our Strength,” and the district reports a racial makeup that is 66 percent white, 19 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and almost 2 percent Asian.
The civic association Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, representing the predominately black neighborhood in the township founded as an African American settlement in 1901, condemned the student’s action on its Facebook page.
“Why this Middle Township, NJ high school senior thinks this is a great photo opportunity is beyond comprehension!” the post from Thursday reads.
A representative from the organization was not immediately available for comment.
Middle Township parent and alumna LillieAnn Hicks was upset Thursday morning that the student in the photo was not removed from the school immediately and feared students might take matters into their own hands.
“At the end of the day, that should never be a representation of our school,” Hicks said.
The student, who has not been identified by the district, is actively involved in high school organizations, which Hicks said was especially upsetting. Because she is a minor, The Press is not providing any more identifiable information on the student.
Hicks said she first learned about the photo from a friend whose children attend the school district.
“You’re going to high school to be prepared to go to college. College campuses will not condone things that you do off of campus no matter what it is,” Hicks said. “If she was in college she would be expelled from that school.”
Hicks said she has left a message with the Board of Education and plans to attend their meeting next week to discuss the issue.
“It’s not OK,” she said.
Salvo said he will be reaching out to students, staff, stakeholders and community members to assist in addressing the situation.
“Our counselors are available along with our teachers and administrators to talk to any students who many have any concerns about this incident,” Salvo said.
He said the district has been working to promote cultural responsiveness as part of its social and emotional learning initiative that began last year, and held an assembly for students last month on the dangers of social media.
“So those things are always ongoing,” he said.