Jefferson superintendent apologizes after students alleged racist comments at basketball game

JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP, NJ (Morris County) – An investigation is currently underway into an incident where racist and/or offensive statements were allegedly directed towards Dover athletes during a basketball game on Friday.

I would like to address the incident, which is currently under investigation by the high school administration,” Jefferson Township Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Tierney said.

While the investigation is taking place, I would like to share some of my personal thoughts with you. The students involved are children and often children make poor choices.  By no means am I accepting or defending their behavior, but it is our responsibility as adults to work together with our children so that they can learn from their mistakes. It is very upsetting when adults openly criticize a child; as adults, we should be modeling appropriate behavior, Tierney said.

“Like every school or community, our community is comprised of many different and unique individuals. It is the district’s and parents’ responsibility to teach our students to accept the differences of their peers, to show appreciation of others, and to demonstrate good sportsmanship. Unfortunately, the actions of a few have now tarnished the reputation of an outstanding student body, school, and community and for that, I am very sorry,” Tierney said.

Jefferson Township High School has over 1,000 students and to admonish all of them, for the actions of one or a group, is unfortunate. I have been a part of and have witnessed the students of Jefferson Township participate in many programs and activities to make the world a better place. I encourage you to research Project Stay Gold to witness what our student body actually stands for. It should also be noted that the student-athletes of Jefferson Township High School have been awarded seven sportsmanship banners by the NJSIAA. This demonstrates that our students exhibit and have been recognized for their positive behaviors, Tierney said.

Moving forward, the High School Administration will conduct an investigation into this very serious matter. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Morris County Secondary Schools Athletic Directors Association have been notified of the incident. Additionally, a Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying report has been filed by the district regarding the allegations.  Upon completion of the investigation, the individual or persons responsible will be disciplined accordingly.  We will also work closely as a district to continually encourage our students to embrace all walks of life and to be respectful of one another, Tierney said.

We will look to use this unfortunate situation as a “teachable” moment for our students and work to correct their behaviors with the sincere intent that these actions do not take place again. In closing, I implore you to be your child’s role model in cautioning them to always reflect prior to writing an email and or posting on social media, Tierney said.

Statement from Dover of Public Schools Bob Becker: On Friday, January 27, 2017, Jefferson High School hosted a basketball game with Dover High School. Numerous instances of concern were reported by our Dover parents which are being actively investigated by both districts with a profound sense of urgency and importance.

Dover has proudly graduated students since 1885 from a variety of countries, this is part of who we are, and contributes toward a wealth of experience enriching all who attend our schools. Our population is currently composed of more than 80% Latino and African American, and we welcome more than 200 students a year from a variety of other countries. Our diversity in language and culture contributes toward an enhanced experience those fortunate enough to attend Dover encounter, celebrating our uniqueness while embracing our common spirit, Becker said.

I have been working closely with our Administrative team and officials in Jefferson as we ascertain the specific concerns related to behaviors exhibited by a small but vocal part of the Jefferson student body during the basketball game. Our Athletic Director is filing a formal complaint on the County level, and at the State level with the NJSIAA. Our High School Principal has been meeting with Parents and Students to verify and validate our concerns. I personally feel a sense of anger and frustration that our students were subjected to speech which was discriminatory and hateful in nature. This cannot be tolerated and will not stand. By means of example, when one of our African American students attempted to make foul shots, a small group of the home team fans chanted “Ashy knees”. When the Dover students were warming up, chants of “Build the Wall” resounded from another small, yet vocal group of fans. A variety of racial slurs were also expressed during the game, Becker said.

To paint the Jefferson fans with a broad brush would be just as disingenuous as the treatment our students received by the small group who were so inappropriate. What we feel should have been done by the hosting school was the employment of immediate action to curtail the hateful speech and behavior, ejecting those responsible while employing corrective action. It is our duty to respect the rights of all, and not tolerate boorish behavior on the backs of our children. I have also directed the High School Administration, in the event of a reoccurrence, to immediately report concerns to the site manager, and should the situation not be resolved, to ask the officials to cease play or terminate the game while appropriate remedies are sought, Becker said.

I ask our student body to embrace the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high”. Do not regress to the lowest common denominator by posting negative comments on Social Media. Stand tall, be proud, and let us use the systems in place to seek systemic answers to our concerns. You are better than this, we are better than this.   Civility and grace in the face of disparaging behavior is a strength, not a weakness. In time, as the intellectual and emotional maturity of others catches up to you, you will have been proven to have taken the higher path, and will prevail. Make no mistake, the behaviors were not acceptable, and will not be tolerated. I ask you to join me as we respond in a manner that will accomplish our goals while not giving in to an emotional reaction that will take the focus off what must be achieved, Becker said.

Jefferson defeated Dover, 69-41, in Friday’s Morris County Tournament preliminary round game.

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By: Jay Edwards
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