California students expelled from school for allegedly wearing ‘blackface’ awarded $1 million in court

Two California high school students who were expelled for allegedly wearing blackface have since won a $1 million lawsuit.

The lawsuit against Saint Francis High School traces back to an incident that occurred in August of 2017, when a boy identified in the suit as A.H. put on a green acne medication mask and then snapped a selfie, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The next day, A.H., a friend identified as N.H., and a third boy all put on the green acne medication mask and then snapped a group selfie that would go viral three years later after the death of Minneapolis convict George Floyd, triggering backlash. Why backlash? Because the green masks appeared to be blackface.

Look:

“Some who viewed the photo believed it was clearly intended as a depiction of blackface,” the Chronicle notes. “One parent shared the photo ahead of a planned march to protest ‘outrageous behavior’ online and pressure the school to take action.”

As the criticism mounted, Saint Francis High School gave A.H. and N.H., the boys attending the school, the choice to withdraw voluntarily or be expelled.

“Tragically, defendants achieved their goal of portraying plaintiffs as poster children of racism at [Saint Francis High School], resulting in the devastating destruction of the boys’ young lives,” the boys’ attorney wrote in their lawsuit.

The suit also accused the school of “virtue signaling” by rushing to punish them without first conducting a fair investigation.

After the boys left Saint Francis, they tried to enroll at other schools, but the principal at Saint Francis promised he wouldn’t reveal the reason for their ouster. There was just one problem, according to Frank Hughes, the father of one of the boys.

“Hughes’ son played football and wanted to join the team at his new school, which required Saint Francis to disclose that he had switched schools to avoid a disciplinary action,” according to the Chronicle. “With that disclosure, the boy would be automatically banned from playing sports for a year, under a regional regulation for high school athletic programs.”

“The principal’s breach of a verbal agreement underpinned the plaintiffs’ oral contract claim in the lawsuit. Hughes wound up moving his family to Utah so his son would be eligible to play football during his senior year,” the Chronicle notes.

Long story short, a Santa Clara County jury sided with the kids, awarding them $1 million in damages and tuition reimbursement.

“Our primary goal was to clear [our clients’] names,” lead attorney Krista Baughman said after the ruling. “It was quite clear the jury believed these were innocent face masks. They are young kids. Their internet trail is going to haunt them for the next 60 years. Now they don’t have to worry about that.”

“This case is significant not only for our clients but for its groundbreaking effect on all private high schools in California, which are now legally required to provide fair procedure to students before punishing or expelling them. The jury rightly confirmed that Saint Francis High School’s procedures were unfair to our clients and that the school is not above the law,” she added.

The jury specifically ruled that Saint Francis High School had breached an oral contract and also violated the boys’ due process rights. However, the jury rejected the boys’ claims of breach of contract, defamation, and violation of free speech.

The school wasn’t pleased with the overall ruling. In a statement, reps for the school said they “respectfully disagree with the jury’s conclusion as to the lesser claim regarding the fairness of our disciplinary review process” and that they’re “exploring legal options,” including a potential appeal.

The only bad news is that the two boys and their parents had initially sought a whopping $20 million. Still, $1 million is better than nothing.

“We want to sincerely thank the jury and the court system for helping our boys and our families find justice, which now paves the way for their names to be cleared for things they never did,” A.H.’s family said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Vivek Saxena

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