The incident happened at Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City.
CNN  — 

The Martin County School District in Florida is investigating a photograph that shows a group of middle school students holding up what appears to be hand-made letters that spell out a racial slur, officials announced Wednesday.

The photo, which has been widely circulated on social media, shows six students spelling the word “N***er” with letters that are large enough to cover their upper bodies.

The incident happened at Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City, about 100 miles north of Miami.

“We are moving with all deliberate speed to interview all those who may have been involved in this shameful incident, and, unfortunately, can confirm that the photo is authentic,” Superintendent of Schools John D. Millay said in a statement posted to the school district’s website.

The district expects to finalize its investigation within the next 48 hours, according to the statement.

“Students who were involved in this disgraceful incident will be provided the due process afforded under federal and state law, and our investigation will not compromise those rights,” he said in the statement. “The District is, however, appalled, and saddened by this incident which is contrary to our values, and the ideals that are instilled in our students.”

The district “will mete out appropriate disciplinary consequences to any students who participated in this behavior, pursuant to the District’s Code of Student Conduct,” Millay said in the statement, adding federal law prevents them from identifying the students or what disciplinary action is taken.

On Tuesday, members of the community expressed outrage at the photo during public comments at a Martin County School Board meeting.

“What we saw wasn’t racism, it was beyond racism. It was terrorism. And that is what’s happening in our community,” said Marwan Porter, an attorney based in Stuart, who warned that incidents like this could inspire future attacks like Saturday’s shooting at a Buffalo grocery store.

A number of speakers said the incident is why lessons on diversity, Black history and racism are important.

Martin County NAACP President Jimmy Smith said the district should hire more Black and brown teachers to better match the area’s diversity.

“You will never solve this problem until we learn to know each other,” Smith said.

The Martin School District has 18,542 students, according to a 2020-21 Report Card from the Florida Department of Education.

The report said 6.3% of the students are Black/African American, 54.6% are White and 34.1% are Hispanic.