Two teenage boys are suing an exclusive Catholic school for $20 million claiming the ‘blackface’ photo they were ‘forced out’ over was actually green acne medication.
The former students and their parents launched the lawsuit against St Francis High School in Mountain View, California, after the viral image sparked outrage last year.
They say the school offered them an ultimatum to leave or be expelled. The school says the teens left voluntarily. A third boy who was in the image went to a different school and is not involved in the suit, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
A selfie – taken in August 2017 – shows the three boys when they were 14-years-old, topless with a dark green mask on their face.
In the suit, launched in Santa Clara County Superior Court in August, it is claimed that one boy suffered with severe acne. He had taken a pic with a white facemask a day prior to the green one, it adds.
In a statement the two families said: ‘This lawsuit is our attempt to redeem our names and reputations, and to correct the record to reflect the truth of what actually happened.
‘A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest.
‘In conjunction with the school and the community, our families sought to be a part of a solution to this obvious misunderstanding, so that the entire (Saint Francis) community could get to a better place, and we were rebuffed by SFHS and its leadership, who seemed to have no interest in entertaining the truth.’
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The former students and their parents launched the lawsuit against St Francis High School in Mountain View, California, pictured, after the viral image sparked outrage last year
The suit says the school’s actions were a ‘virtue-signaling attempt to be perceived within the community as “fighting against racism”, regardless of the true facts and context.’
The boys, identified as H.H. and A.H, and their parents also say the principal told them their removal was down to ‘optics’ in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The lawsuit states: ‘At no time did the boys engage in ‘blackface,’ nor did they intend to do so or mimic doing so. Neither A.H. nor H.H. had even been aware of the term ‘blackface,’ let alone what it meant or signified.’
It adds that ‘despite being on express notice of the falsity of the ‘blackface’ allegations’ officials ‘continued to defame and scapegoat’ the boys.
The families say this was ‘for the sole purpose of appeasing members of the…community who were (rightfully) enraged by wholly unrelated incidents of racism at (the school).’
It goes on: ‘In defendants’ hurried attempt to ensure their perception as social justice warriors in the face of an unfolding scandal, and without any efforts to ascertain the true state of affairs, defendants pointed to 3-year-old photograph of plaintiffs that was taken entirely out of context, to falsely accuse plaintiffs of having committed an overt act of racism…and to scapegoat them for the misconduct of other students.’
‘It is SFHS’S pattern and practice to sweep incidents of student racism under the rug when doing so would benefit SFHS’S reputation, and to scapegoat students (regardless of their level of fault) when doing so would be better for the school or administration’s public perception and ability to collect monetary contributions.’
A judge in January said the school ‘may have acted negligently’. Judge Thang Barrett noted there was no evidence of an investigation into the matter by administrators in his decision to not dismiss the suit.
The image had been shared one of the boy’s friends who then uploaded it to her Spotify account. It stayed there until it resurfaced last June when it was shared as an example of racism at the school.
The boys and their parents say they attempted to explain the acne face masks to their friends and the dean of the school in the hours that followed.
But two days later, on June 5, Principal Katie Teekell is said to have phoned H.H.’s parents, telling them their son was no longer welcome at the school, allegedly arguing: ‘This isn’t about intent, it’s about optics.’
By June 17 the school’s attorney was telling the families the image’s ‘disrespect was so severe as to warrant immediate dismissal’.
The school then backed a protest by parents who used the image as evidence of ‘kids participating in blackface and thinking that this is all a joke’. Those attending the protest called for the boys’ expulsion.
The boy’s attorney, Krista Baughman, said: ‘There were only four business hours between when the school first contacted our clients about the face mask photograph, and the time the school informed our clients that they would not be allowed to return.’
The school’s president Jason Curtis said: ‘St. Francis High School is committed to creating an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included.’
The families say they have been forced to move out of the area with the boys ‘futures into complete disarray’.
The families say they withdrew their children on June 19 after being told St Francis would not mention the incident to any future schools. But they say even that position was later revoked and Teekell told them she would ‘be honest’ with other institutions.