BEL AIR, Md. (WBFF) - Parents and students in Harford County are outraged after a group of students at Bel Air High School posed and took a picture spelling out a racial slur.
The picture was taken last week and posted on social media, where it's since spread.
A change.org petition is calling for the seven students involved to be expelled.
Parents are asking for Harford County Public Schools to be more transparent about the students' punishment and to hold a public discussion about what happened.
"I think at this point there needs to be some type of town hall meeting," said Jahneen Keatz, whose daughter is a sophomore at the school.
High-school spirit week is supposed to be light-hearted, she said.
"You know, they have pajama day, retro day. One day was Scrabble Day. So they were encouraged to wear letters on their shirts, meet up with friends, spell out a word and kind of promote the spirit of the school," said Keatz.
Instead, a group formed a racial slur, posing for a picture and posting it online.
"If this is what they consider promoting spirit of the school, we have a real issue at Bel Air High School that needs to be addressed immediately," said Keatz.
Last night, she got a recorded call from the school's principal saying the students have been disciplined.
The student's punishment has not been confirmed by the school system, which sent FOX45 this statement:
"There was an incident that occurred at Bel Air High School involving students who used cut out letters to display a racial slur which they consequently photographed. The incident was thoroughly investigated and disciplinary action has been taken against the seven students involved. This behavior is not and will not be tolerated in Harford County Public Schools and is not representative of Bel Air High School students or Harford County Public Schools."
"The use of racial slurs, or any discriminatory comments, is not acceptable in Harford County Public Schools," the statement continued. "As a school system, we welcome and honor diversity and are committed to facilitating a safe and secure environment for all of our students and staff. Given the nature of the incident that occurred at Bel Air High School, the school staff, the administration, and the entire student body will have an opportunity to work towards an inclusive, supportive, and respectful learning environment with the guidance of the Supervisor of Equity & Cultural Proficiency. We will continue to take action to address these issues and to improve inclusivity in our schools. In addition, continued professional development for staff will focus on cultural responsiveness and inclusivity."
But Adam Rosenberg, of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, said he's seen "an alarming rise over 2017 where there are more and more kids who are finding it acceptable to be able to say, to post it and share it."
He says the center has been getting a lot of calls this year relating to kids saying and posting hateful speech.
FOX45 spoke with him Friday about the incident at Bel Air High School.
"In this case, these kids went way over the line in that. But unfortunately, they are getting sucked up in a moment where there's a portion of America that thinks it's okay to post that," he said. "That's why it's easy for these kids to fall into that. I think it's just one example of a lot of things we'll continue to see unless we really help start teaching our kids what's acceptable speech and what's free speech."
Rosenberg advises parents to hold their kids accountable.
He said to look at what's on their phones, see what they're posting and have frequent discussions about what is appropriate.
In Harford County, Keatz wants to see more done for her daughter.
"Why would they be so bold and brazen to think that this would be OK?" she wondered. "I think there needs to be open dialogue, open conversation, absolutely. We don't want this swept under the rug."
She has called both the school's principal and school board and is waiting to hear back.
She also says the Harford County NAACP chapter will be contacting the school.