Jury awards former high schoolers $1M after admin pushed them out over alleged blackface photos

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – A Northern California jury awarded two former private Catholic high school students with $1 million and tuition reimbursements after administrators pushed them out…

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – A Northern California jury awarded two former private Catholic high school students with $1 million and tuition reimbursements after administrators pushed them out over alleged “blackface” photos in which the boys were wearing acne facemasks, according to a press release.

The jury award was handed down Monday, siding with two plaintiffs who had attended Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. While the former students had lost on three of their five claims, the jury sided with them for the school’s breach of oral contract and lack of due process, the outlet reported. 

“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,” partner at the Dhillon Law Group Krista Baughman stated in a press release. “The jury rightly confirmed that St. Francis High School’s procedures were unfair to our clients and that the school is not above the law.”

The lawsuit, obtained by the SF Chronicle, stated that in August 2017 a boy who was identified as A.H. had worn a green acne facemask purchased by his mother and took a bathroom selfie with another boy who was wearing a white acne facemask. The next day, A.H., a friend identified as H.H., and a third boy labeled as Minor III, all put on the green acne facemask, taking a picture of themselves which was provided within the lawsuit.

As the photo of the boys went viral, they stated that it had been taken as a joke and not out of racial animosity, the outlet reported. However, claims circulated that the boys had taken the photo allegedly intending to portray blackface. Backlash against the school built, with one parent reportedly sharing the photo ahead of a planned march protesting the “outrageous behavior” online, according to the SF Chronicle.

The school administrators gave the students an option to either voluntarily withdraw or be expelled, and by 2020 the teens and their parents sued the school, initially seeking $20 million.

Following the issue, A.H.’s father, Frank Hughes stated that after his son left Saint Francis and attempted to enroll in other schools, the principal allegedly promised to not disclose the reason behind their transfer. As A.H. was seeking to play football and was set to join his new school’s team, Saint Francis was required to disclose that he had transferred to avoid disciplinary action. The information automatically banned him from playing sports for a year due to regional regulations for high school athletic programs, the SF Chronicle reported.

While the boys’ family thanked the jury in a statement, Saint Francis officials called out the dismissal of the plaintiff’s primary legal claims regarding defamation and breach of contract, as well as finding that the administration had not interfered with the boys’ rights to free speech, the SF Chronicle reported. In a statement given to the outlet by a school representative, they officials stated they “respectfully disagree with the jury’s conclusion as to the lesser claim regarding the fairness of our disciplinary review process,” claiming other “legal options” would be looked into.

“Twenty percent of our boys’ lives have been spent seeing this process come to fruition. But the sacrifice is worth it to clear our boys’ names, and to try and make sure that St. Francis can never again assume a child is guilty without giving a child the opportunity to show their innocence. To never again sacrifice any child to protect the school’s reputation like they did our boys,” the Hughes family stated in response to the verdict.

“Despite being afforded time to reflect and contemplate after the heat of the moment had subsided, President Jason Curtis and Principal Katie Teekell don’t regret their actions. They would do the same thing today. We hope this will lead the Board of Directors to hold those responsible for these actions and make needed changes to protect students moving forward. And to restore the sanctity of St. Francis as a Holy Cross high school.”

Since A.H.’s ban from football for a year, he and his family moved to Utah so he would be able to play football for his senior year, according to the SF Chronicle. In addition to the award granted to the boys, the private school will be required to reimburse Hughes for moving and living expenses, the outlet reported.