The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League censured a school district in McMurray, where two drum majors at a mostly white school dressed in black body suits for an October 30 marching band show at a football game against a mostly black school, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
In addition to publicly censuring the Peters Township School District, the WPIAL also put the high school on probation until October 2021 and demanded they apologize to their opponent, Pittsburgh-based Woodland Hills High School.
Woodland Hills coaches, players, and spectators took immediate exception to the costumes, which were perceived as similar to wearing blackface.
“We’re very happy with the outcome of the incident with Peters Township,” the paper quoted Woodland Hills Superintendent James Harris as saying. “Everything that we talked about behind the scenes has occurred or is occurring, and looking at what the WPIAL has done, we’re very happy because we never thought they would really go forward with anything, or that it would be delayed. But they jumped right on it.”
As did Jeannine French, the Peters Township superintendent.
“She was fantastic,” Mr Harris said. “It happened on a Friday, and she tracked me down and called me on Sunday and was really apologetic and said she was going to investigate this fully and not sweep this under the rug. She was fantastic the whole time, and so was their board.”
Officials at Peters Township say they hope to turn the situation, which was insensitive but “without racist or harmful intent,” according to a statement issued by the district, into a positive learning opportunity. “Prior to the actions by the WPIAL board, the athletic directors and administration of both schools began the work of turning the incident into an opportunity for positive change.”
The WPIAL, which governs high school athletic activities at 10 counties in Western Pennsylvania, doesn’t ordinarily govern marching bands but said that since the actions occurred at one of their events—a quarterfinal football game—they might be able to help “spark real change in the Peters Township School District.”
- Coverage on KDKA-TV (CBS affiliate, Pittsburgh)
In a February 2019 blackface incident in Connecticut, the NAACP wasn’t as happy about the resolution as Mr Harris at Woodland Hills appears to be.
A blackface photo of two students at Simsbury High School was circulated on social media, and Greater Hartford NAACP President Maxien Robinson-Lewin contacted the school about its failure to discipline the students, The Associated Press reported.
“Blackface in any manner is always deemed as racist and we will not stand for such behavior,” he was quoted as writing in a letter to school officials. “The lack of disciplinary action … does not match the severity of the situation as viewed by the NAACP and the community.”
“Despite ongoing efforts within our schools to enhance educational opportunities for staff and students regarding diversity, there is clearly more work to be done,” Superintendent Matthew Curtis wrote in his own letter to parents. “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.”