Two CR students suspended for racially charged photo on social media

A Delaware State policeman and detective exit the front of Caesar Rodney High School on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CAMDEN — No criminal charges are coming but two students may be expelled from Caesar Rodney High after allegedly posting a photo of the school mascot holding a racially charged sign on social media, officials said Thursday afternoon.

The two students were suspended, according to a statement from Caesar Rodney.

The statement said the students “will face disciplinary action up to and including expulsion.”

The image, circulated on social media Wednesday evening, showed someone wearing the “Caesar Rodney” mascot costume and the person help up a piece of paper that read, “(Racial slur) DON’T Belong at CR!”

The Delaware Department of Justice said there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges right away.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said, “This type of conduct is abhorrent and the school should certainly pursue disciplinary action.”

The Department of Justice statement said it would assess the full investigation, including police reports and interviews, and any new evidence before making a final determination on charges.

“While the act of these individuals was reprehensible and will not be tolerated, I wish to commend our students and our community for their support during this challenging time.” CR Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said.

The school district opted not to disclose the name, age and year in school of the students involved.

Meanwhile, the school has decided the mascot will not be used for the rest of the year. School district spokesman David Chambers added, “There will be a community discussion prior to its use in the future.”

The initial posting drew widespread attention on Facebook, in the community and at the school.

The district notified parents with phone messages and a website post Wednesday night.

“Over the last three years many students have proudly worn the mascot uniform and have expressed their revulsion in the reprehensible language on the paper and the way in which the costume, school and students have been defamed,” the school district commented in a statement.

The Rev. John Moore, of Dover, was invited into Caesar Rodney High on Thursday and then posted thoughts on his experience on Facebook afterward.

The Rev. Moore regularly visits schools in the area and shares the civil rights messages of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Just spent the last two hours walking the hallways, visiting classes and speaking with students at Caesar Rodney High School with my friend and community partner, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald,” the Rev. Moore said in his Facebook post. “In the midst of the potential turmoil, the climate was peaceful and as I spoke with students, we addressed the reality of the challenges that they must confront. Yet I encouraged them to realize that they are a force for change.

“The best solution they can provide is continuing to do great things and prove they are significant, they count and they belong in CR as well as anybody else. All of God’s children are beautiful and worthy to pursue their dreams! We all “BELONG”! We are Stronger United!”

After the image surfaced Wednesday night via social media, the Caesar Rodney School District issued a statement via website and phone message to parents and staff from Dr. Fitzgerald and CR High Principal Sherry Kijowski acknowledging the issue.

On Thursday afternoon, the district issued an updated news release quoting Principal Kijowski and Superintendent Dr. Fitzgerald and acknowledged an investigation was ongoing.

“This behavior has absolutely no place in Rider Country,” Principal Kijowski said. “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.”

According to Dr. Fitzgerald, “We have zero tolerance for this behavior.

“We understand our community and our students have been hurt by this message. This message is reprehensible and in no way represents our school district, our high school, our community and our students.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment in which our students can learn and we do everything in our power to continue the proud tradition that we have for the last 102 years.”

On Thursday morning, spokesman Master Cpl. Gary E. Fournier said the Delaware State Police “are actively assisting Caesar Rodney School District with this issue.”

At around noon Thursday, three state police vehicles were seen at CR High.

“Troopers have been supportive in providing a presence throughout the day,” said Mr. Chambers.

Mr. Chambers said attendance was “fairly typical for a Thursday.”

The school district declined to divulge how and when it learned of the image, and referenced all comment to the previous statement issued by Dr, Fitzgerald.

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