Two teens who were booted from an exclusive California Catholic school over a “blackface” photo are suing the school for $20 million — claiming they were actually wearing acne treatment masks.
The former students, identified only as H.H. and A.H., accuse St. Francis High School in Mountain View of overreacting to the “innocent” selfie and “scapegoating” the teens amid racial tensions in the wake of George Floyd’s police custody death, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“This lawsuit is our attempt to redeem our names and reputations, and to correct the record to reflect the truth of what actually happened,” the boys’ families said in a statement to the Chronicle.
“A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest,” the statement said.
According to the lawsuit, the photo of the two boys and a friend was taken in 2017 when they were just 14 — and was an attempt by two of the boys to show solidarity with the third, who suffered from bad adolescent acne.
All three teens snapped themselves with acne masks, the suit says. The treatment mask, bought by A.H.’s mother, was light green when applied and turned dark green after drying.
The pic remained private until a friend of the third teen — who attends a different school — shared the photo on Spotify in October 2017.
Still, it wasn’t until June 2020 that the pic resurfaced and went viral on social media following Floyd’s death on May 25, which sparked global Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The picture was posted on an Instagram meme account created by recent graduates of the school on June. 3, the suit says.
The following day, St. Francis Principal called H.H.’s parents, telling them the photo “isn’t about intent. It’s about optics,” according to the lawsuit.
“Your clients, or their friends, are responsible for the posting of the photograph on social media and the resultant publicity and unfortunate consequences,” school officials wrote to a lawyer for the boys’ families, the Chronicle reported.
The school gave the boys a choice: resign or be expelled, the suit says.
St. Francis has been at the center of racism controversies before, including school baseball players caught writing slurs on a locker room whiteboard in 2017.
In 2019, a girl at the school then claimed she was being racially bullied, and last year a lacrosse player was suspended for taunting a Native-American player from another team by calling him “Squanto.”
The school declined to comment on those incidents.
St. Francis President Jason Curtiss told the Chronicle the school could not comment on the lawsuit because of the pending litigation and student privacy laws.
“St. Francis High Schools is committed to creating an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included,” he wrote in an email.