Two students are suing St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California, alleging that administrators confused their green acne facial treatments with “blackface,” and then forced them out of the school. The lawsuit claims that even after the school’s administrators were informed of the truth, they “continued to defame and scapegoat” the students.
The students and their parents filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Catholic high school, claiming that administrators forced them out of the school last year after an image of them wearing acne medication went viral and sparked outrage online, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.
In the photo in question, two former St. Francis students — along with a third student who attends a different school — can be seen with their faces covered in dark green masks.
The students’ families say that in response to the photo, school officials offered the boys an ultimatum to either leave, or be expelled. The school says the students left voluntarily.
“The School perceived that the photograph was blackface and was harmful and damaging to the School community and that the School needed to take disciplinary action against Plaintiffs,” wrote attorney Nicholas Ma in a December court filing.
The third student in the photo is not involved in the lawsuit, as he attended a different school.
“This lawsuit is our attempt to redeem our names and reputations, and to correct the record to reflect the truth of what actually happened,” said the students and their families in a statement released to the Chronicle.
“A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest,” they added.
The lawsuit, which is being fought in Santa Clara County Superior Court, states that the principal told the families that the decision to remove the two boys was based on “optics.”
The ordeal arrived on the heels of the death of George Floyd, which ignited nationwide protests and riots resulting in more deaths.
The school’s president, Jason Curtis, wrote in an email that “St. Francis High School is committed to creating an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included.”
The lawsuit insists that “at no time did the boys engage in ‘blackface,’ nor did they intend to do so or mimic doing so,” adding that “despite being on express notice of the falsity of the ‘blackface’ allegations,” school officials “continued to defame and scapegoat” the students.
The students say they were threatened, lost friends, and had to move out of their community, with one of the boys having to go out of state in order to continue playing sports.
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