A New Jersey principal apologized to minority students for the phrase "party like it's 1776" imprinted on tickets to the school's upcoming senior prom to be held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Cherry Hill High School East Principal Dennis Perry sent a letter to students, parents and other community members Friday apologizing for the "insensitive" wording that led to complaints from African-American and minority students. Perry said it was "irresponsible" for he and other prom organizers to overlook the historical fact that "not all communities can celebrate what life was like in 1776," a time of slavery in America. The American Revolutionary War theme for the event was intended to pair with the National Constitution Center venue, which was established after President Ronald Reagan signed the Constitution Heritage Act of 1988 to "disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a nonpartisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people."
But the message missed the mark with several minority students at Cherry Hill High School East, prompting the prom apology.
"Today, I learned that members of our school community were offended by a statement written on our Senior Prom ticket," Dr. Dennis Perry wrote in the Friday letter. "I especially apologize to our African American students, whom I have let down by not initially recognizing the inappropriateness of this wording. You can expect that we will do better as a school community to produce well thought out, appropriate communications."
According to the most recent state education data, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey school in Camden County lists that 6.2 percent of its students are black, 62.2 percent of the school is white and 22.4 percent of the student body identifies as Asian. The public school had 2,177 students during the 2015-16 school year, with the school's Hispanic population at just shy of 6 percent of the overall student body.
In response to the complaints about the "party like it's 1776" tickets, senior prom attendees won't be required to bring the physical tickets, of which the school kept purchase records. Additionally, all students are set to receive a "commemorative Prom Ticket" upon arrival. These redesigned tickets will be distributed to all attendees "in an effort to right this wrong," wrote Principal Perry.
Camden County NAACP East chapter President Lloyd Henderson told the Courier-Post that the school's oversight was just "another example that the culture at Cherry Hill East is one where the African American students' needs are not considered along with the rest of the school. However, I do take some solace in the fact that Mr. Perry immediately recognized and acknowledged the insensitivity of the comment."
Despite receiving backlash over the historical misstep, some community leaders applauded the school's open-minded response to racial tensions and sensitivity. "I believe that Perry handled the situation well," said Danny Elmore, a vice president for the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association, in an interview with the Courier-Post. He added that minorities should always be included in organization discussions in order to avoid such controversies. "We lose out when we do not know who our neighbor is," said Elmore, who referenced the school's 2017 staging of "Ragtime" that drew controversy for its inclusion of the n-word. The nearly cancelled show, however, went on to win a national award for "courage in theater."