The Lakewood school district filed a bias complaint with the state Attorney General's Office after middle school basketball players said opponents called them "homeless" because they weren't wearing proper basketball sneakers.

The taunts took place Wednesday during the girls game at the Russel O. Brackman School in Barnegat, according to Lakewood school district spokesman Michael Inzelbuch.

"After the game, two of the players, one who is African American, confided in their coach that she was being called a black b****," Inzelbuch told New Jersey 101.5. "The other girl was being taunted that she must be homeless because she can't afford sneakers."

Inzelbuch said that many of the players cannot afford sneakers so they wear "regular" athletic sneakers during games.

"Our kids have who have so much going against them between poverty and other things, this was very upsetting to them," Inzelbuch said, adding that 97% of Lakewood's public school students are minorities and 100% are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 85% of students in Barnegat Public Schools are white, 6% are Black and 7% are Hispanic or Latino.  About 83% of Lakewood students are white, 3% Black and 13% Hispanic or Latino.

Sign in front of Lakewood Middle School
Sign in front of Lakewood Middle School (Google Street View)
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Barnegat officials shocked

In a statement to New Jersey 101.5, Barnegat schools Superintendent Brian Latwis said that an investigation by the district determined that the "offensive and insensitive comments" were made by student spectators seated behind the Barnegat team bench, not by any members of the basketball team.

Latwis said he learned about the comments only after Lakewood complained publicaly.

"We take these allegations very seriously and have a detailed harassment, intimidation and bullying policy in place. This type of alleged behavior is not tolerated, and we are working to determine the validity of these accusations," Latwis said. "We would have preferred to address this matter directly and more immediately, rather than be notified about the filing of incident reports through the media."

Inzelbuch said Lakewood's athletic director called his counterpart in Barnegat. The attorney for the Barnegat district told him the allegations are being investigated as a violation of the school's code of conduct. However, an apology has not been offered.

"We'd like to see two things. An apology to the students and equally important we'd like to see some kind of education provided to the students who did this. Students don't just act like this on one occasion. It's not a fluke, it's not an accident," Inzelbuch said.

Interior of the Brackman Middle School in Barnegat
Interior of the Brackman Middle School in Barnegat (Barnegat Public Schools)
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Complaint filed with the state

A bias complaint was filed with the state Attorney General's Division on Civil Rights.

“The Division on Civil Rights (DCR) is committed to addressing bias and hate among young people, and encourages members of the public to read the Youth Bias Task Force Report published in October 2020 and available on its website," spokesman Leland Moore said. "DCR is aware of allegations relating to a middle school basketball game between schools from Lakewood and Barnegat, but cannot comment further at this time.”

NJSIAA spokesman Michael Cherenson said the group does not have jurisdiction over middle school games.

Inzelbuch said the team is being outfitted with basketball sneakers from the district but offers have come in to pick up the cost which is being considered by the district.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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