Expelled students win $1M over misinterpreted acne masks in blackface racism dispute

By Minh Nga   May 13, 2024 | 03:15 pm PT
Two U.S. students who were expelled from a private high school in California in 2020 for allegedly “wearing blackface” secured a US$1 million settlement after proving the dark facial applications were acne treatments.

The controversy arose when a photo from 2017, depicting the teens, both white, with dark green face masks, reemerged three years later and was misinterpreted as racist amid heightened racial tensions following George Floyd’s death.

Floyd was a 46-year-old black man who died on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for over nine minutes during an arrest, despite Floyd's repeated pleas he could not breathe.

When the photo was taken, the boys were students at Saint Francis High School in Watsonville, California.

In the photo, two boys, who were 14 at the time, and a third boy who did not go to the private school, posed in front of a mirror wearing dark green face masks.

People interpreted the masks as "blackface," a process of using make-up to appear black and the photo quickly went viral with the false accusation, according to the Telegraph.

A selfie photo of three highschoolers with their faces covered with the acne treatment mask. Photo by the Superior Court of California

A selfie photo of three highschoolers with their faces covered with the acne treatment mask. Photo courtesy of the Superior Court of California

Saint Francis school told the two boys they either had to withdraw from school or face expulsion.

The boys were not offered a hearing, and the school did not consider any evidence, according to the lawsuit filed later by their parents against the school.

The New York Post cited the lawsuit as saying that the boys took a photo during a sleepover party, and they were wearing the treatment in solidarity with a friend suffering from severe acne, their lawsuit said.

The acne treatment, provided by one of the boys' mothers, was light green when applied and turned dark green once dry, it said.

As decided by the Superior Court of California in the County of Santa Clara last week, the school breached an oral contract and did not give the students due process before expelling them, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The jury awarded each student $500,000 and an additional $70,000 in tuition reimbursements after their parents sued the school.

Although the school faced accusations of a lackluster investigation and breaching an oral contract, it was cleared of defamation and violating free speech rights.

Despite the court's decision, the school expressed disagreement with certain findings and is considering an appeal.

go to top