Shelton students apologize for blackface Snapchat photo

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

SHELTON — The girls responsible for a photo on Snapchat of a white student in blackface have apologized — and their written apologies were displayed during a special assembly Friday at Shelton Intermediate School.

Superintendent of Schools Chris Clouet said the assembly gathered the entire school population and featured a “well-crafted” PowerPoint presentation, during which a detailed history and meaning of blackface in the African-American community was shown.

Clouet said, while some know the students involved, others do not, so the girls were not identified during the assembly.

“I believe we were able to take this situation and turn it into a teachable moment,” said Clouet.

Clouet said earlier in the week the district was investigating the circumstances surrounding this photo, which showed a white student wearing a black substance on her face, appearing to be some kind of face paint or beauty mask.

In the photo she is seen sticking out her tongue and holding up both middle fingers. Reports indicate the photo was captioned “New (racial slur) in town.”

“We will be taking this situation very seriously,” Clouet said when news of the photo broke. “These are complex issues, and before we react, we need to talk to ... those who created the photo and all those who were impacted by the photo.”

The assembly, led by Principal Dina Marks, came one day after Valley NAACP President Greg Johnson Sr. called the photo a hate crime and demanded “swift and meaningful” punishment.

“The apology was a first-person by each girl talking about their intentions and how sorry they were about causing others such distress,” said Clouet, adding that the presentation also featured a statement by a fellow African-American student who described how this photo adversely affected her. None of the students were identified during the presentation.

“There was also a discussion about social media,” said Clouet. “Students were told again that once you send, you cannot unsend.”

Near the end of the school day, Clouet said students gathered in their respective homerooms and reflected on what they had heard.

“This is the beginning of an ongoing process in which we will continue to work with students to learn to better respect each other,” added Clouet.

Johnson on Sept. 12 stated that youth can often make mistakes, but “when those mistakes promote hate, disrespect and the degradation of people based on race, the consequences must be swift and meaningful.

“This must be a teachable moment,” said Johnson. “Hate and disrespect has no place here and will not be tolerated. The people involved in this incident are young, yes, but if there is no significant consequence for this behavior, the behavior can become worse as these people become older. I don’t believe any of us want that.

“This behavior falls under the definition of a hate crime based on recent changes in the law, but neither the police, prosecutors or courts have taken the legislation seriously,” said Johnson. “The Hate Crime Commissioner was never established and they won’t arrest and prosecute hate crime offenders because they look like the kid above — young whites. This is our opportunity to send a loud and clear message that hate of any type is unacceptable and will be punished up to and including expulsion.”

Clouet said several students claimed they were purposely tagged in the post, and that some of those tagged were Shelton Intermediate School students. Marks spoke to those students Sept. 10.

Marks sent a letter to parents Tuesday, in which she called the photo “troubling.” She said in the letter that there would be a full investigation.

“We will continue in the following weeks to educate our students that such behavior has far-reaching implications for themselves and can have a devastating impact on the targeted group and our community as a whole,” Marks said.

“As a school community, we denounce this behavior,” added Marks. “Shelton Intermediate School stands for respect and inclusion. We value the diversity of our student body and believe in respect and kindness towards all. This unfortunate incident does not reflect our school values.”