A racial slur by two Caesar Rodney School students who used the Riders’ mascot to spread their vitriolic message has roiled the school community and led to their suspension and pending expulsion.
The slur was disseminated on social media this week via a photo of someone wearing the mascot’s costume and holding a sign that used the N-word and said they “don’t belong at CR.”
The photo went “viral,” said district officials, who learned of its existence Wednesday night. It spread on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
The school south of Dover was named for Rodney, a lawyer and politician who lived in the area during the late 1700s and was one of three Delawareans to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald issued a statement late Wednesday evening condemning the “reprehensible” act that disparaged black students. About 31 percent of Caesar Rodney’s 1,900 students are black.
The district “is distressed that our mascot would be used in such a manner and we strongly disavow the statement,” Fitzgerald’s statement said. He added that officials “are deeply disturbed by the content of this message.”
Thursday morning, Principal Sherry Kijowski addressed students and staff over the intercom before school started.
“This behavior has absolutely no place in Rider Country,” she said, according to a news release by the district. “I assure you that we will do everything within our power to find the individuals responsible for this hateful message with the help of the Delaware State Police.
“I ask that you continue to be proud of your school and be the best version of yourselves. You define what it means to be a Rider, not a picture, not a post.”
State police investigated and referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office, which said Thursday night it has decided not to prosecute the students “at this time.”
The statement by Nicole Magnusson, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Matt Denn, said, “This type of conduct is abhorrent and the school should certainly pursue disciplinary action.”
She added that her office “will assess the results of the full investigation, including police reports and interviews, and any additional evidence that may be gathered before reaching a final conclusion on charging.
Kijowski told WHYY Friday that the two students known to be responsible for the picture and posting have been suspended with the intent to expel them. They will have due process to contest expulsion, she said.
The principal, in her fourth year at Caesar Rodney, said only a few people had access to the mascot’s costume, and that at this time officials only think two students were involved. She would not identify the race or gender of the students who posted the epithet against black students because they are minors, she said.
“It’s hurtful that people had peers in this building that did this, posted this and believed this and that’s not what we believe as a school,” Kijowski said. “The actions of a few do not define what we believe as a school and what we stand for.”
“Moving forward we have to have some very frank and honest discussions about the concept of inclusiveness, not only to encompass race, but also to encompass sexual orientation, it needs to encompas religious beliefs, and it needs to encompass people with disabilities,” she said.
“We should be embrace each other and celebrating our differences.”
The mascot, which is in its third year of use at district events, has been mothballed for now, starting with Friday night’s home football game.
“Unfortunately,” she said, “the mascot right now is looking as if it’s a symbol of hate.”