Activist: Expel Penns Grove Middle Schooler Over Violent Racial Threats

Walter Hudson says a student threatened to shoot three African-Americans students. Superintendent Zenaida Cobian says the incident is being "grossly exaggerated."

Civil rights activist Walter Hudson (Photo courtesy National Awareness Alliance)

Civil rights activist Walter Hudson in October 2015 (Photo courtesy National Awareness Alliance)

The country has endured far too many school shootings in its recent past, so it’s not surprising that alleged threats of violence made among students at Penns Grove Middle School in New Jersey have spurred a commotion. The situation caught the attention of civil rights activist, founder of the National Awareness Alliance, and former member of the Penns Grove-Carneys Point school board Walter Hudson.

On Monday afternoon, Hudson held a press conference at the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional District Building. He and some outraged parents protested the school district’s handling of the situation. In an open letter to Superintendent of Schools Zenaida Cobian, Hudson says that a student, who is white, allegedly “threatened to shoot several students and referred to African-American students” with racial slurs. The NAA, Hudson’s organization, says it strives to fight racial discrimination and social injustice. (Hudson has a complicated relationship with Penns Grove.)

Hudson told Philly Mag that the student in question recently followed three African-American students on their walk home from school, threatening to shoot them and using racial slurs. The parents of the students who say they were threatened reportedly did not contact police.

However, this story’s roots go back approximately three years. The student who is alleged to have made the threats appeared in a Facebook photo uploaded by his father which showed the child holding what appears to be an assault rifle. The controversial photo drew national scrutiny at the time. 

When the photo was posted in 2013, police came to the family’s home and concluded that the .22 caliber rifle was legal and had been given from father to son as a birthday present.

As Hudson sees it, the student’s apparent access to the weapon makes the current situation urgent. A press release announcing Monday’s event cited “the lack of leadership by school officials,” namely Cobian, in what he calls a failure to discipline the student and ensure that the school remains safe.

On Monday, Hudson, a former board member and colleague of Cobian’s, told Philly Mag he was “disappointed by [Cobian’s] leadership. She has to prevent something like this from happening.” Hudson was eventually removed as a school board member after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer on school grounds.

Hudson demanded that the student who made the threats be removed from the school district, according to his letter to Cobian. Responding to Hudson’s and parents’ outcries, Cobian downplayed the seriousness of the threats and explained that appropriate discipline was issued to those involved and all safety measures were put into place.

“The description that has been provided to the media and general public of the incident that took place at the Penns Grove Middle School approximately two weeks ago has been grossly exaggerated,” she said in a statement. “At no time was there a weapon or gun in the school. At no time was a shelter in place or lock down ordered for the Building.” 

Hudson’s concern, however, was that the student is known to have access to firearms and needs to be seriously disciplined, even though he has not committed any acts of violence or brought a gun onto school property.

Hudson also noted a harsh, threatening message on social media sent to one of the African-American students, from someone Hudson says is a friend of the white student’s family. It’s unclear how, if at all, the message affected the school district’s handling of the situation. The credibility of threats made via social media are difficult to verify, but school administrators often take extreme precautions. Last week, Tacony Academy Charter School in Wissinoming was closed due to a photo of guns that surfaced on social media.

Cobian noted that due to confidentiality concerns, she could not provide specifics on the incident or exact discipline imposed, but said that “the matter was handled appropriately, and in accordance with applicable state laws and regulations, as well as the District’s Code of Conduct for our students. Our parents always have the ability to contact our Building and District Administration to raise any concerns or questions regarding student discipline or safety matters.” 

Carney’s Point police have not responded to a request for comment.

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