The controversial photo was taken at an off-campus Halloween party
A school district in New Jersey is condemning a photo that depicts two students dressed as an African American slave and a slave owner for Halloween.
The photo, which has made its rounds on social media, features a Watchung Hills Regional High School student wearing a straw hat and holding a whip with another student dressed in blackface, a curly black wig and a black coat while at an off-campus party. Both men in the photo are white.
Superintendent Elizabeth C. Jewett addressed the controversial photo in a letter on Tuesday, in which she confirmed that students of the school wore the costumes to a Halloween party off-campus, but did not confirm the names of the students. She also said the district is investigating the matter with law enforcement.
“We have begun to engage our entire school community in difficult conversations around diversity, equity, tolerance and inclusion within our district and the community at large,” she said in the letter.
According to Jewett’s letter, the school’s Equity Team and the student-led Diversity Council held meetings during the students’ “flex time” on Wednesday for them to discuss the incident in small groups with staff members.
Participation in the discussions was entirely optional for students, Jewett said.
“Hate has no place on our campus,” she said. “The Watchung Hills Regional High School District seeks to develop ALL of our students into young adults who are able to demonstrate empathy, cultural sensitivity, and ethical decision-making.”
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The school superintendent also called on the community to ensure that the incident could be a “teachable moment,” as opposed to “responding to a hateful act with more hate.”
Jewett told PEOPLE on Thursday that 150 students participated in the optional discussions and the Diversity Council invited her to their lunchtime meeting, which had 40 students in attendance with teachers and administrators.
“We are in the process of planning a community-wide event later this month,” she shared.