‘We’re sorry’

Marshalltown, East Marshall districts investigating photo of five teens in blackface

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Officials at Marshalltown and East Marshall community school districts are investigating this controversial photo shared on the social media app Snapchat earlier this week. The five girls pictured are students of the two districts.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Officials at Marshalltown and East Marshall community school districts are investigating this controversial photo shared on the social media app Snapchat earlier this week. The five girls pictured are students of the two districts.

A picture showing five Central Iowa girls with black outfits and black face-paint was posted on social media earlier this week, and officials from the Marshalltown and East Marshall school districts said investigations are under way.

“We were made aware of (the picture) the night it happened,” said Marshalltown High School Principal Jacque Wyant Thursday morning. “There were five kids in the picture, and yes, some of them were Marshalltown Community School District students.”

East Marshall students were also confirmed to have been shown in the photo.

“It is a student issue, and with that being said, we have been made aware,” said East Marshall Superintendent Tony Ryan. “We are checking into things within the rules of the school system … We definitely will be honoring the confidentiality rights that the students have.”

Some of the girls pictured, as well as their family members, came forward to apologize and provide their side of the story Thursday afternoon.

“We’re sorry,” the girls said in a joint statement, with one adding “When I talked to the school, they put it in other peoples’ perspective, and then I saw how bad it looked … we didn’t know what blackface was.”

Blackface refers to a non-black person putting black makeup on the face or body in order to appear black. The girls said that was not their intention.

An African-American fellow student and close friend of the girls said he knew about the idea of leaving the black makeup on the night the picture was taken and posted.

“It wasn’t meant to hurt anybody; we have a heart for a reason, and I hope people use their hearts to forgive these girls, because I did,” he said.

One of the girl’s mothers said she and other parents involved have talked with their children about the picture and its consequences.

“They’ve been threatened since the day this has happened,” she said. “We, as parents, have sat down with them and talked to them.”

At least one of the girls claimed she was offered the chance to change school districts by her current district, but decided to stay where she was.

A Marshalltown Schools statement issued Thursday morning concerning the picture read “The Marshalltown Community School District is aware of a very disturbing and offensive Halloween photo shared on social media. We are investigating the situation surrounding the photo and will take action as deemed appropriate. This is not acceptable behavior and not an indication of our school community.”

Marshalltown Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte later said the district is working with the students and parents concerning the situation.

“Given the high value that our school community places on racial and cultural diversity being a significant asset within our community, I’m extremely disappointed and disheartened that anyone connected with our school community would think it appropriate, under any circumstances, to present themselves in that way,” he said. “At a bare minimum, it reminds us of how far yet we have to go in terms of providing our students with the necessary cultural and racial sensitivity training in order to function effectively in society.

Patrice O’Neill is the leader of the nationwide Not in Our Town (NIOT) organization, which has a chapter in Marshalltown.

“The Marshalltown community has been working for years to stand up to intolerance and bullying,” she said. “When these incidents occur, it’s a powerful reminder that the work to build an inclusive town is ongoing.”

O’Neill added that use of “stereotypes and bigoted language” in a “joking” manner can still be harmful to fellow community members.

Wyant confirmed the students were not at a school function when the photo was taken. The parents and the girls said the photo was taken at a private residence prior to attending Halloween festivities Tuesday evening.

——–

Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com