A South Jersey community is dealing with increased racial tensions after a week of hateful messages, a fight in a school hallway and a daylong sit-in.
Some parents and students say Washington Township High School gets a failing grade when it comes to race issues.
The Sewell school held an emergency gathering — drawing about 300 people — Thursday night to address parents’ concerns and address how to move ahead from tensions.
Anger over racist group text messages boiled over earlier this week into a fight in the hallways of the school. Several students were punished for the brawl, video of which landed on social media.
Administrators say some kids were taking matters into their own hands after identifying a classmate texting racial slurs. The texting student made racially-insensitive comments and threatened bringing back the KKK, classmate Amirah Collins said.
Collins joined about 100 other students in taking part in a peaceful sit-in protest Thursday, not attending classes.
"I was offended and I felt sick to my stomach that my township is resulting in this kind of behavior so strongly and so openly," student Autumn Ellis said.
The school called it a wake-up call, organizing the meeting.
"I commend those students who chose to peacefully protest and to articulate their concerns to school leaders," Washington Township Superintendent of Schools Joe Bollendorf said in a statement. "It was important for us to allow students the ability to express themselves and feel that their concerns are being heard and will be addressed."
There was an increased presence of police at the high school as rumors of other threats of violence were unfounded Thursday but parents remained uneasy.
"My daughter does not want to return to that school and this is her senior year," parent Sheri Johnson said. "I don't feel safe, I don't feel comfortable, I can’t be at work nervous if my child is going to be OK tomorrow."
No one was seriously physically hurt in the fight. Police decided to not charge anyone. Instead, the school suspended the students involved in the fight and the initial texts.
"We want to assure our community that those students involved in these incidents have been dealt with swiftly and vigorously," Bollendorf said. "Under no circumstance will hatred, racism, bigotry or violence be tolerated in any of our schools."
The school opened without incident Friday morning.
"We hope to use this negative, unfortunate and intolerable incident to challenge our students and staff to embrace and promote a school culture that is one that better reflects the values of our district and community," Bollendorf said.