MOUNT OLIVE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — An appeals court has overturned the firing of two white New Jersey teachers accused of calling black students “Negroes.”

Mount Olive High School physical education teachers Brigitte Geiger and Sharon Jones denied making the comments, which allegedly occurred in a school locker room in 2012.

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One of the girls said the teachers were “yelling really loud” in the gym locker room, with Jones exclaiming, “These Negroes think they’re — tough” and Geiger responding, “Yeah, that’s what they are. They’re Negroes.”

The judges said Wednesday that the penalty was too harsh and ordered the state education commissioner’s office to hold a new hearing.

An administrative law judge recommended that the teachers be dismissed after finding testimony credible from two girls in the senior class who said they heard the remarks.

The teachers filed an appeal, arguing that their termination was a case of age discrimination. Jones had been a teacher for 31 years; Geiger had taught for 28 years.

The appeals court said Geiger and Jones had long “unblemished” records and other teachers in similar circumstances had not been dismissed.

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The panel rejected five of the teachers’ contentions in their appeal, including one seeking to discredit their accusers simply because they are children, but the judges ultimately accepted that their dismissal was “excessive and arbitrary.”

Colleges across the country and in the tri-state area have been staging protests to raise awareness for race and social issues in educational communities after a student-organized petition led to the resignation of Missouri State University President Tim Wolfe.

At schools including Yale, Ithaca, Hunter, SUNY and Michigan, students say the protests inspired them to take a harder line.

Students at Princeton University held a sit-in on Wednesday, calling for the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from programs and buildings across campus, noting the former president’s racist inclinations.

Princeton is home to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, his name is on one of the school’s residential colleges, and there is a mural of Wilson in a dining hall that the protesters want removed.

About 30 black and white students, from a group called the Black Justice League, took part in the protest Wednesday, demanding a range of changes to improve the social and academic experience of black students. Scores of other students joined in the protest outside the building.

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