A South Florida school district said it is launching a comprehensive investigation into a photo showing students spelling out a racial slur that was shared online Monday.
The Martin County School District confirmed that the photo with the six students spelling out the racial slur was authentic, according to a statement from the district.
In the photo, each of the six students is shown holding up a large letter that spells out the N-word.
Montrell Pryor, an instructor at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, told NPR that this incident shows why critical race theory is important.
"From a diversity perspective, this is why critical race theory is important," Pryor told NPR. "[Critical race theory] allows students of all races, creeds, and backgrounds to understand America's volatile past within the context of the educational curriculum so that generational trauma, such as this, is not repeated."
The school district said it is "appalled, and saddened" by the incident.
"The Martin County School District is committed to promoting and maintaining a learning environment free of hateful, racist and discriminatory actions or conduct," John Millay, superintendent for Martin County School District, said in a statement.
The students involved in the photo are facing "severe disciplinary consequences" in accordance with the district's code of student conduct, a district spokesperson told NPR.
The school district said it cannot identify the students involved or discuss the discipline they will face.
"We have and will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy in this regard. I will work towards partnering with the leaders in our community to reinforce our values in this regard and will continue to strive towards fostering a learning environment free of bigotry and racism," Millay said.
Members of the Black community told WPTV that this specific incident brings back up decades of mistreatment in the county.
"It might seem like it's funny or might just be kids. No, we have all made mistakes," Jimmy Smith, Martin County NAACP president, told WPTV. "But when you get to that degree, to come up with an idea like that, there's something else going on."
Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons also spoke out against the photo on Twitter, saying he will not be doing anything for the school until disciplinary action is taken against the students.
"This disturbing picture was sent to me from a friend. This picture was taken at HOMS where I used to compete when I attended another middle school down the road," Simmons tweeted. "This type of behavior is completely unacceptable. And if the school fails to act it means this type of behavior is allowed."
In response to Simmons' tweet, RISE, an organization that educates the sports world on racial discrimination, said the photo is yet another reason why adults and children must be exposed to "honest conversations and education on racism, diversity and inclusion."