Students wore blackface for powderpuff games from 2013-2016

The Forest Lake Area School District has come under fire when photos of students wearing blackface surfaced over the weekend on social media. Posts included pictures of female students at powderpuff football games during homecoming weeks, some of whom were in blackface, a term used to describe non-Black people wearing black or brown face paint by, at minimum, the face, and in some cases, all over the body. 

Blackface was first used in America in the 1800s as a way to mock and belittle Blacks in minstrel shows. 

The district issued an apology on Saturday and also sent out an email to district parents detailing the situation. 

“We didn’t respond to it, and that is a failure to our system,” Superintendent Steve Massey said. 

The photos in the social media post were of then-senior girls at a powderpuff football game in 2016 wearing black face paint, some of whom were in blackface. The post criticized the students and indicated there were recommendations by other students that the girls not paint their faces black. The post has since been taken down.

A statement released by the district over the weekend read: “We want to acknowledge the hurt and offense that these incidents have caused, at the time and also in the past few days of seeing these photos. We sincerely apologize for this pain. A former student brought this to our attention, and this took courage.”

Teams who participated in powderpuff football games would select colors to go with their team theme and would paint their faces by their team colors. The district has confirmed students wore blackface in at least the years of 2013-2016, but has said since then it has not been allowed.

Massey, who was the principal of the high school during those years, said that he was unaware of the students wearing blackface during the powderpuff games, and said none of the staff brought it to his attention. 

“I can’t speak for the staff members that were there, but they didn’t make the association at the time. … That connection wasn’t made at the time and the kids were not asked to take it off and they participated. That’s a failure of our system,” Massey said. 

Massey said that they became aware of the issue in 2017, and said from that point forward face paint is no longer allowed. 

The school said that students wearing blackface also appears in the high school yearbook in years from 2013-2016. The yearbook team is made up of students and an adviser, but Massey said that procedure didn’t include a process for principal review.

“It’s a fair question, how does it end up in the yearbook without the principal knowing? That’s a breakdown, if not a failure, of our editorial and review process with the yearbook, and certainly there needs to be much stricter rules going forward. … We need much broader oversight and review of that process to help account for all those different things and identify and make sure things don’t slip through,” Massey said.

In an email to parents, the district apologized for the incidents. 

“It is clear that blackface is a symbol of racism, and black face paint is too closely reminiscent of that symbol, is inseparable from that symbol, and is offensive and hurtful to our community,” the district said in its statement. 

The school district has been working toward equity in recent years, including an intentional focus in that arena in its strategic plan. Administration has engaged students and parents of color in conversations surrounding equity and justice, and this past fall, the district partnered with the YMCA to host a community-wide conversation titled Everyone Belongs, surrounding equity and racial injustice and bias. The district has brought back those conversations since the death of George Floyd.

In addition, the district is “examining ways our curriculum is void of Black voices,” Massey said. 

“Students should never be subjected to racism, bullying, or harm in our schools or our communities. This is a vision and value firmly held by the school district and by me, and we will not rest until this value is fully realized and experienced by all students and families. Racist symbols and slurs will not be tolerated in our schools,” the district’s statement read.

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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