Racist social-media posts spark outrage at Maple Shade High in South Jersey

One 10-second Snapchat video shows a high school student smiling while wearing blackface.

In another, a girl sitting at a table says the N-word.

A screenshot of a message exchange reveals a teen telling a peer, “Y’all preach about your ancestors so much then go tf back to Africa.”

The racist social-media posts created and shared among Maple Shade High School classmates had parents outraged over Presidents Day weekend as they called on administrators to punish those involved. The disturbing material was spread over the last few weeks via Snapchat and viewed by African American students who alerted adults and school officials.

An anonymous Instagram user on Friday compiled the photos and videos into one post. The content was shared by those in the community, garnering hundreds of responses over the three-day weekend.

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“I don’t think I’m going overboard with going to the school with this. I’m not going to have my grandchildren feel like they can’t go to school or feel uncomfortable in their skin,” said Deborah Morant, who was among a chorus of voices expressing anger over the posts.  

Now, school officials are dealing with the fallout as police work closely with the district to investigate.

Administrators met with about 15 families Monday in an effort to pin down those responsible. The videos were not made on school grounds, but even so, the district stepped in after parents contended that the growing conflict would disrupt their children’s education and sense of safety.

“The district was not aware of these incidents until Sunday. We’re still getting to the root of it and trying to sort it out,” said Beth Norcia, superintendent of the Maple Shade school district. Investigators believe at least four students were behind the posts, but more could have been involved.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
There was no evidence of student protests outside Maple Shade High School on Tuesday.

Scattered throughout the small campus Tuesday morning were vehicles belonging to the Maple Shade Police Department and officers holding posts near one of the main entrances. Parents came and went, but students were out of sight, and the school looked as though it could have been on lockdown.

Norcia said the larger presence of officers at the school was in response to social-media rumors indicating a planned protest. Police were unsure who was behind the posts or whether the threats are founded.

Officers at the school said they were “forbidden” to comment on the matter.

Last March, administrators said they investigated after a student posted a racist photo on social media. School officials said the case was confirmed as “harassment, intimidation, and bullying,” and the student was disciplined, but they would not say how.

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Seventh grader Ciara Manning said racial bullying at the school stopped after the single incident last year. But she said it resurfaced two weeks ago when a classmate posted a Snapchat story wearing blackface and another later posted a video of a girl saying the N-word.

Back-and-forth between classmates festered for weeks until, on Sunday, Manning emailed the superintendent. A day later, more than a dozen meetings were set up with parents. 

“You don’t joke about that word,” 13-year-old Manning said. “It’s offensive to my culture and my skin color.”

Sixty-three percent of the school’s study body is white, 18.5 percent is Hispanic, 12.5 percent is black or African American, and 4.4 percent is Asian, according to statistics from the New Jersey Department of Education’s school performance reports. 

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On Tuesday, Manning and about 20 other minority students planned to peacefully protest what they see as racism at the school by wearing black clothes and bringing signs to class bearing positive messages about equality.

“The school wasn’t doing anything about the situation, so we decided we will,” Manning said. “We’re going to speak for everyone.”

In a letter to parents posted Monday on the school district’s Facebook page, Norcia encouraged adults to take the lead in teaching their children “the value of diversity, kindness, and respect.”

But the administration plans to take on a greater role as well. The school will create a leadership team composed of students of different races charged with arranging assemblies to discuss cultural awareness. On Monday evening, officials reached out to the local NAACP chapter, area legislators, and nearby chaplain associations.

“Every student counts and every student is valued,” Norcia said. “If that’s not the feeling now in the community, we need to fix that.”

Crystal Charley, president of the Southern Burlington County NAACP, said the organization met with concerned families who contacted them a few days ago. The group has not yet met with or spoken to school administrators, she said.

Charley agreed that diversity education programs are a good start but emphasized that teachers should directly combat racist behaviors in the classroom. Charley said educators need to show teenagers during their “formative years” that there are consequences for discriminating against others.

At the end of the day Tuesday, police continued to patrol the campus as students walked out of the school with no sign of protest or incident.

Charley, of the NAACP, said the onus was on parents, teachers, and administrators to foster a culture of tolerance and acceptance of diversity.

“Assemblies won’t deter all students from having racist behaviors,” she said. “The teacher is the first level of authority. Supervising adults need to make sure that culture isn’t accepted in the classroom.”