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Middle Township school officials investigating racist social media post

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.

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Ocean Resort Casino celebrates their grand opening on Thursday in Atlantic City. Thursday, June 28

Ventnor man sentenced to 30 years for murder of AC's Bessy Blanco

MAYS LANDING — “Although my mom taught me to not carry hate in my heart and she believed in forgiveness, I will never, never forgive this monster and I will always hate him as long as I live,” Ana Blanco said Thursday afternoon during the sentencing of the man who killed her mother, Bessy Blanco.

Jose B. Lopez, 53, of Ventnor, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of his ex-grilfriend, 54-year-old Blanco, who was found stabbed to death inside her home on North Harrisburg Avenue in Atlantic City on Feb. 18, 2017.

Lopez was also sentenced to 20 years for the attempted murder of Blanco’s friend, Mark Richart, who was found stabbed on the street outside the home but survived the incident.

He will serve the sentences concurrently.

Richart was present at the sentencing but did not give a statement.

Lopez, who appeared shackled and in an orange prison jumpsuit, kept his head lowered during his sentencing and declined to speak.

“Mr. Lopez has decided not to speak, but he certainly wants me to convey his remorse, his apologies,” said his attorney, Steve Scheffler. “He certainly wants both families to understand that, from the outset, he wishes he could dial back the clock and rewrite history.”

Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. said Lopez’s “conduct and behavior in this case was particularly violent, bloody and gruesome” before handing down the sentence.

Lopez, who was indicted in May 2017 on nine charges — three counts of murder and one count each of attempted murder, burglary, armed robbery, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, theft and carjacking — has been in the Atlantic County jail since his arrest.

He pleaded guilty to the murder and attempted murder in November.

According to statements from the affidavit, Lopez was kicked out of Blanco’s home days before the murder and was staying with his mother in Ventnor.

Prosecutors described Lopez as a jealous ex-boyfriend who allegedly called Blanco’s daughter after the murder to blame her for what happened.

Ana Blanco called Lopez a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “sociopath” and “pure evilness,” reading from a prepared statement.

“Now that he is being put away, practically for the rest of his life, I feel it will be another level of healing for us,” she said. “I’ve learned the hardest part of life is that we have to keep on living even when our world has stopped spinning and that healing doesn’t mean that the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.”

clowe-pressofac / Claire Lowe / Staff Writer  

Bruce Deifik, Ocean Resort owner, speaks during an editorial board meeting at The Press of Atlantic City in Pleasantville Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

Attorney for Buena wrestler asks state to probe 'unrelenting' hair fixation

The attorney for a 16-year-old Buena Regional High School wrestler forced to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match last month wants the state to investigate “an unrelenting fixation” on the wrestler’s hair.

Dominic Speziali, the attorney for junior wrestler Andrew Johnson, said Wednesday’s match between Buena and Absegami was postponed after a referee said Johnson would not be able to compete without covering for his hair.

Buena school officials could not be reached for comment on why Wednesday’s match was canceled.

Speziali outlined his charge and complaints in a Thursday letter to Estelle Bronstein, assistant director of the state Division on Civil Rights.

In the letter, the attorney said a referee contacted Buena during the day Wednesday and without seeing Johnson said he could not compete without a head cover.

Speziali said Johnson wrestled four times this past weekend in a Williamstown tournament without a head cover.

Speziali said the Absegami match was “abruptly canceled without explanation, and to the dismay of Andrew and conceivably his teammates, who, like all wrestlers, must prepare and sacrifice in the lead up to every match.”

Absegami athletic director and Cape-Atlantic League President Steve Fortis said Buena athletic director Dave Albertson called him Wednesday morning and told him he had to postpone the match.

The event was a non-conference CAL matchup. Absegami is in the CAL American Conference, while Buena is in the CAL National. Fortis said because it is a non-conference matchup it does not have to be rescheduled, under league rules.

Wednesday’s canceled match is the latest in a saga that began Dec. 19 and has become a national story.

Referee Alan Maloney allegedly would not allow Johnson to compete with a cover over his hair. Maloney reportedly said Johnson either had to have his hair cut or forfeit his match.

Maloney is white, and Johnson is black.

Larry White, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said Wednesday the organization is investigating the Dec. 19 incident. The NJSIAA, which governs most New Jersey high school sports, also referred the matter to the Division on Civil Rights.

White said Maloney has not officiated an NJSIAA match since Dec. 19. Neither Johnson nor Maloney has commented publicly on the matter.

Video of the Buena trainer cutting Johnson’s dreadlocks went viral. It was later shown on, and other websites. Commenters — including notable figures such as Chance the Rapper, director Ava DuVernay and Gov. Phil Murphy — were outraged by what they regarded as an act of overt racism.

It has also started a national debate on how long a high school wrestler’s hair can be.

According to the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, a wrestler’s hair “shall extend no lower than the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back, shall not extend lower than earlobe level on the sides, and shall not extend below the eyebrows in the front.

“Hair that does not conform to the rule shall be contained in a legal hair covering, or the wrestler shall not be allowed to compete. For hair coverings to be legal they must be worn under the headgear, or be part of the headgear, and be of a solid material that is not abrasive.”

Elliott Hopkins, director of sports, sanctioning and student services for the national federation, said in a Wednesday memo to the NJSIAA that the hair rule has been in place since 1966.

Hopkins said the national rule is based on the length, not style, of a wrestler’s hair.

White said Thursday in a statement the NFHS interpretation will serve as the NJSIAA’s official understanding of the rule. White said any future questions will be made in close coordination with the NFHS.

Meanwhile, Speziali said Johnson and his Buena teammates want nothing more than to return to what life was like before Dec. 19.

“Yet, it appears for the reasons that the Division can hopefully soon unmask,” the attorney wrote, “that certain officials have a desire to unnecessarily escalate and prolong this ordeal due to an unrelenting fixation on the hair of a 16-year-old (boy) that asked for absolutely none of this.”

Buena’s next match is 4 p.m. Friday at Timber Creek.

The Johnson Family / Provided/