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NAACP Calls for ‘Discipline’ of High School Students over Blackface Photo

Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, pauses while speaking during a press conference announcing a lawsuit by the NAACP and Prince George's County, Maryland against the US Census Bureau March 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty
DR. SUSAN BERRY

The Greater Hartford, Connecticut, branch of the NAACP called for Simsbury residents to “pack” a board of education meeting Tuesday night after a photo seeming to show two high school students in “blackface” appeared on social media.

“We need to make our voices heard,” the NAACP posted to Facebook. “Simsbury Public Schools needs to know that these students must be held accountable and disciplined accordingly. Intentional implicit racial bias will not be tolerated.”

According to the Hartford Courant, NAACP Greater Hartford Branch President Maxien Robinson-Lewin said at the board meeting she hopes the school district will “look at the discipline for the two girls who appeared in black face.”

“[W]e need have [sic] conversations about sensitivity training … and changing the climate and culture in the Simsbury community,” she added.

Robinson-Lewin rejected reports that the students did not know the seriousness of their actions, saying “blackface” has been in the media often, so the students could not be unaware.

She said she has met with Matthew Curtis, superintendent of Simsbury Public Schools, about NAACP building a partnership with the school, but insisted the effort be one of “substance and not a symbol.”

NBC Connecticut also reported that earlier in February a photo surfaced on social media that appeared to show two high school students in blackface.

Curtis sent a letter to parents stating the image of the students was “offensive and hurtful.”

He added:

Despite ongoing efforts within our schools to enhance educational opportunities for staff and students regarding diversity, there is clearly more work to be done. This recent incident highlights the need to make our learning more widespread and engaging. As a school system, we are committed to embracing this work in a more collaborative and inclusive way.

Curtis said the issue would be discussed in the classroom and in the community, a sentiment that was echoed by Simsbury First Selectman Eric Wellman, who said he hoped the incident “sparks conversations all across our town in homes, schools, and houses of worship.”

“This needs to be a teachable moment that goes beyond the specifics of this particular incident,” Wellman added.

Maxien Robinson-Lewin, NAACP chapter president, however, criticized the response of the school board.

“The Simsbury Board of Education needs to understand that this incident has repercussions beyond the town,” she said in a statement. “The action – or inaction – of the district following the unconscionable actions of these students is unacceptable.”

In a letter to Curtis, she said the NAACP is “deeply concerned with the verbal minimization of the situation as noted by the statement released to the media.”

Curtis invited any community members who wished to voice their concerns to attend the board of education meeting Tuesday evening.

Robinson-Lewin said the students received a one-day suspension for their actions – a punishment she considered to be insufficient.

“To me, that does not teach the students that their actions have consequences,” she said, adding that the school should re-evaluate its disciplinary guidelines.

“I think that it’s very important they are disciplined accordingly because their policy allows for them to be disciplined, even though the incident happened off school grounds,” Robinson-Lewin said.

Curtis said student privacy laws prohibit the school district from releasing information about student discipline.

When Curtis extended the invitation to the school board meeting, in a press release NAACP called for residents to “voice their collective concerns following an incident in which two Simsbury High School students appeared in ‘blackface’ on social media.”

Robinson-Lewin called for residents to “pack the board of education.”

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