UPDATE: Collingswood High Schoolers Disciplined for Racial Bias Incident, Criminal Charges Could Follow


The district says some kids started a ‘White Student Union’ as a joke that evolved into bullying and defacing a vehicle with racial slurs.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 9, 2024

In February 2023, Collingswood High School students protested what they described as a climate of bias in the district. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that the student whose vehicle was defaced in this incident was Black. That student is white.

The other substantive details of the incident are accurate as reported, including an investigation by the district and authorities into the bullying of Black students at Collingswood High School by their white classmates.


A group of Collingswood High School students faces potential bias crime charges as well as discipline from the public school district for allegedly organizing a white student group and lashing out at other classmates.

Collingswood Superintendent of Schools Fred McDowell confirmed that a group of “seven to nine” high-schoolers who are “old enough to know better” are being investigated for racial bullying, intimidation, and harassment.

The group allegedly organized a White Student Union as an ironic response to the school’s Black Student Union, “and then it evolved into something that is more characteristic of a hate group than anything else,” McDowell said.

The superintendent alleges that the students made “inflammatory racial slurs and threats of physical violence, [that were] verbalized, directed towards [other] students.” The same high-schoolers are also alleged to have defaced a vehicle belonging to a white student with the same racial slurs they had directed at their Black peers.

The investigation is active and ongoing at the district level, and attorneys are involved, McDowell said. Any legal consequences will be determined by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO), which declined to comment on the matter while the investigation is being completed.

The incident surfaced a couple days before the district went on spring break last week, and the time away from school has provided a natural cooling-off period for the high-school campus, McDowell said.

The district is “working with all the families that are involved on both sides of the issue to make sure that young people are able to move forward,” he said, with additional outreach to the school counseling and wellness center staff “so the appropriate supports can be applied to all the students, the perpetrators and the recipients.”

“Even with abhorrent behavior, young people still need the opportunity to reflect, the opportunity to reconcile, if they choose; to respond if harm is done,” McDowell said. “That’s what we’re trying to be focused on.

“I don’t think we have bad kids,” he said. “I think we have kids that have made some poor decisions. We have to educate them into what are additional options that may be considered so they can have a better outcome.”

NJ statewide bias incident trends. Credit: NJ State Police.

In the recently released 2021-2022 New Jersey Bias Incident Report, New Jersey law enforcement agencies reported 2,211 bias incidents statewide — up 17 percent from 2021 levels (1,885 incidents) and 53 percent from 2020 numbers (1,447 incidents).

More than half of all bias incidents (1,162 incidents) involved harassment; nearly one-fifth (411 incidents) involved “destruction, damage, or vandalism,” and racial bias accounted for nearly 60 percent (1,295) of all bias incidents in 2022.

By demographics, Black people were the most frequent targets of racial bias (45 percent, 1,006 incidents), while Hispanic people were the most frequently targeted victims of ethnic bias (6 percent, 138 incidents), and Jewish people were most frequently targeted for religious bias (20 percent, 450 incidents).

The report also identified elementary and secondary schools as the most frequent locations where bias incidents occurred, with 451 incidents (20 percent) occurring there.

Those trends seem to be at play in the circumstances surrounding the incidents in Collingswood High School.

“As a Black man from the segregated South, I am not shocked and appalled,” McDowell said. “These kinds of things continue to surface when communities fail to appropriately acknowledge, invest, and respond to the historical challenges that have been associated with race.”

Collingswood Superintendent Fredrick McDowell addresses a community meeting about racial tensions in the district in 2023. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

In Collingswood, efforts to address longstanding diversity concerns in a town that is trending wealthier and less white in its social composition have involved the creation of a town-wide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.

Those concerns were brought to the fore after Collingswood High School students walked out of school last February to protest what they described as a climate of bias there.

In a community meeting that followed, stories from residents and students described a variety of racially charged experiences that have followed them throughout their time in the borough. In response, the DEI Committee worked to deliver the first Juneteenth celebration in the borough last year.

McDowell said that such accomplishments illustrate that progress, however incremental, is being made.

“There are bright spots that we’re continuing to see,” he said.

“We are still committed to and focused on being a more inclusive community that values all of its members. That’s what we’re going to continue to work on.

“Until we get to that better future, we’re going to experience these types of flare-ups periodically,” the superintendent said. “My hope is that the flare-ups get fewer and fewer so we’re no longer having to talk about these types of situations.

“[But]  We can’t deny that these things are happening when they’re happening, and we can’t deny that they’re unacceptable behaviors.”

This is a developing story. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.

Please support NJ Pen with a subscriptionGet e-mails, or follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


Comments are closed.