WEST DEPTFORD — A South Jersey elementary school principal got a lesson on checking her work after assigning students as young as 6 a project that honored a convicted cop killer.

The school-wide assignment at Red Bank Elementary School was actually supposed to honor famous black Americans for Black History Month.

But the list of notable black figures included Mumia Abu-Jamal and Angela Davis alongside Louis Armstrong, Mohammad Ali, Crispus Attucks and George Washington Carver.

Abu-Jamal, a black nationalist, was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He has maintained his innocence even though he was found wounded from a gunshot at the scene alongside his fired gun.

Davis, meanwhile, is a social justice activist and communist who was a one-time fugitive after being charged as an accessory in a violent and deadly 1970 takeover of a California courtroom. Prosecutors tried to tie her to the incident because the guns had belonged to her, but an all-white federal jury acquitted her.

What the principal failed to notice, many parents did — including Bryan Klugh, who alerted his friends on the police force.

“When I saw Mumia’s name my head just about exploded,” said Klugh, whose second-grade son brought home the assignment late last month.

Principal Jill Scheetz apologized and emailed parents about the oversight that same night after Police Chief Samuel DiSimone asked school officials to explain.

Red Bank Elementary School assignment.
Red Bank Elementary School assignment.

“Needless to say, I was pretty upset,” DiSimone said, adding that the principal and schools superintendent both apologized to him.

“It was an oversight on their part. We’ve had a great working relationship. I used to be a school resource officer and I've known that principal for years,” he said. “One mistake is not going to ruin the relationship we’ve had for years.”

The letter from Scheetz said Abu-Jamal’s name was left on the list “inadvertently” and that it “was not developmentally appropriate” to have him listed “due to the controversy surrounding this individual.”

“Our intention was to have our students participate in a school wide project celebrating the positive contributions of African Americans in our society,” she said.

“We will make sure that contingencies are in place to prevent this from happening again. As a community, we recognize the work our police do in keeping our community safe and we apologize for the error on our part.”

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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