Students from a Georgia high school caused controversy after spelling out a racial slur during a halftime performance last week.
The incident occurred during a football game on Friday night, as Gwinnett County’s Brookwood High School faced off against a nearby school, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
During the halftime show, four marching band members from Brookwood High assembled themselves in a formation so that their instrument covers spelled out the word “coon” instead of “broncos” — the school’s mascot.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the school’s principal, William Bo Ford Jr., revealed that the stunt was “intentionally planned” by three students as a joke.
“After extensive interviews with many students, we have determined that three seniors intentionally planned and executed the use of the sousaphone covers to spell out a completely unacceptable, racist term,” he said, adding that a junior “appears to have gone along with the plan at the last minute.”
“However, all four of the students knew what was going to happen and knew what they were spelling out during the halftime show. In our interviews, the students — two of whom are African American, one of whom is Asian, and one of whom is Hispanic — indicated that this was intended as a joke, one that they thought would be funny. However, they acknowledged that they knew this racist term was not acceptable,” he added.
Ford also shared in the statement that all four of the students will be punished, as will two additional students who provided false information to the school regarding the incident.
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Ford also sent out a letter apologizing to parents for the disturbing incident, calling the use of the racial slur “hurtful, disrespectful and disappointing.”
In the letter, obtained by PEOPLE, the principal explained that the instrument covers, which are not usually worn on the field, are supposed to spell out the name of the team’s mascot, the Broncos.
Following the incident, the school will be reviewing their halftime show procedures, reported the Associated Press.