An e-mail from a Cherry Hill schools official that has been interpreted as containing racially charged wording has prompted an internal investigation and sparked outrage.
The e-mail from school operations director Kevin Larson, sent after a snowstorm last month, was to tell an elementary school principal why workers from the township Public Works Department would not be available to clear school grounds.
"All of my polar bears, trained seals and the two silver back mountain gorillas on loan from the Township DPW (you should see them with a snow blower that has a banana tied to the front of it, they go through a blizzard like nothing you have ever seen . . .) are already strategically reassigned. Sorry," the e-mail reads.
Larson did not return a phone call for comment.
News of the e-mail, and its perceived racial undertones, has quickly spread around the township since it was first reported Saturday. Mayor Bernie Platt has been vocal since the e-mail was forwarded to the township Thursday.
"It was reprehensible and discriminatory. I couldn't believe an employee of the school district would make statements like that," he said Monday.
Township Council President Dave Fleisher said he was approached at a youth softball tryout Saturday afternoon by three or four parents asking about the e-mail.
"They found it offensive and said they felt a high degree of empathy for the workers," Fleisher said.
The school district apologized for Larson's e-mail in a statement Monday and said an internal investigation was under way.
Colandus "Kelly" Francis, president of the NAACP's Camden County branch, said people should not be too quick to judge.
"It wasn't clear to me who the parties [he was] referring to were," said Francis, who read the e-mail in the Camden Courier-Post over the weekend. "The workers, they were referred to by these characterizations, but it wasn't clear to me what race they were."
But the fact that two of the township's 52 public works employees are African American leaves little doubt in the minds of critics.
Fleisher met with public works employees Monday afternoon as they were preparing for more snow.
"Some of them spoke up, and they all found it offensive," he said. "They felt they have not received an adequate apology yet."
Platt declined to say whether he wanted to see Larson fired, saying that was the school board's decision. But the mayor said he did not plan to drop the issue.
If Larson stays with the school district, "the relationship will be a strained relationship to begin with," he said. "But I can't make that call."
School Board President Seth Klukoff referred questions to the school district.