WARREN TOWNSHIP—School officials in Watchung Hills Regional High School offered voluntary diversity awareness discussions after a student was photographed wearing a blackface costume at a private Halloween party.

The photo was circulated on social media this week showing a white male wearing black makeup standing next to another white student dressed up in a cowboy hat and whip. The pair were described online as a slave and slave owner.

Watchung Hills Regional High School Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett in a letter posted on the district website condemned the costume in the "strongest terms possible" and said the school would engage in "difficult conversations around diversity, equity, tolerance and inclusion within our district and the community at large."

Administrators would not say whether the students faced discipline citing confidentiality of student matters.

"Although this incident occurred outside of school and the event was not affiliated with WHRHS, we are undertaking a thorough investigation into this matter, working closely with law enforcement," Jewett says in her letter.

The school chief acknowledged the outrage circulating online and said that "rather than responding to a hateful act with more hate, I am asking that we, as a community, work together to ensure that the racial insensitivity and inappropriateness of these students’ actions serves as a teachable moment.

"Let us work toward restorative, rather than retributive, justice, repairing the harm done through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders."

Jewett told New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday that approximately 150 students participated in Wednesday's optional discussions with administrators.

"Our Diversity Council invited me to their lunchtime meeting today, which had approximately 40 students in attendance along with teachers and administrators, where we had a very productive discussion about next steps. We are in the process of planning a community-wide event later this month," Jewett said.

Jewett said the goal was to "develop all of our students into young adults who are able to demonstrate empathy, cultural sensitivity, and ethical decision-making."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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