CLARK, NJ — A black puppet with a string hanging around its neck was found hanging in a classroom at Arthur L. Johnson High School on Saturday, Jan. 7 during a basketball game. The puppet was spotted by the Plainfield Girl’s Basketball Team.
The puppet had a string around its neck with a basketball at the top. An investigation is currently being conducted by the Clark Police Department and the Union County Prosecutors.
Arthur L. Johnson High School refused to comment on the matter when contacted by LocalSource. Plainfield Superintendent Anna Belin Pyles released a statement regarding the incident expressing concern about the possible message behind the puppet.
“We teach our children in Plainfield to be tolerant and inclusive of others and we expect the same respect from all with whom we interact. Our goals for our children in this district, and I believe for all educators, are to provide environments where our children may develop into well-rounded individuals who will become thoughtful and contributing members of society without the burden of bias or intolerance,” it read.
Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso believes the puppet was not meant to be an insult and that it was made for a puppet class at the school.
“I don’t believe this was an act of malice,” Bonaccorso told LocalSource over the phone. “During my 16 years as mayor, we’ve never had any incidents like this. I hope there is another explanation. The assignment was to create a puppet to look like the student’s favorite athlete, Shaquille O’Neal. My heart goes out to the student. No one knows how the string got around its neck. We’ve never had any racial tensions at our school, but I will let the police determine if there’s any malice.”
Plainfield High School plans to address the incident further once the investigation is complete.
“We will issue another statement once the investigation is complete,” Community Engagement Liaison Gloria Montealegre of Plainfield High School told LocalSource over the phone.
The students of Plainfield High School were assured in the statement put out by the superintendent that the results of the investigation will be presented to them and that it will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.
“We continue to investigate the facts underlying this matter and will present the findings as appropriate, so this matter may be properly addressed. We will provide all needed support to the students and staff exposed to the offensive display,” the statement by the superintendent read.
Bonaccorso said during the interview that Clark doesn’t want to be known as a community of intolerance and he is hoping that the investigation proves that there’s nothing more to the puppet than a representation of a basketball player.
“I’m hoping that this wasn’t done with malice,” Bonaccorso said. “We don’t want our community to have that stigma.”