Posted on May 12, 2024

Teens Forced Out of Exclusive California Catholic School for Doing ‘Blackface’ Are Awarded $1 Million

MacKenzie Tatananni, Daily Mail, May 8, 2024

Two California teens who were forced to withdraw from an elite Catholic high school over accusations of blackface have been awarded $1 million and tuition reimbursement.

A Santa Clara County jury sided with the teens, identified by the initials A.H. and H.H., on two claims concerning breach of oral contract and lack of due process.

The boys sued Saint Francis High School in August 2020 after photos circulated of them sporting acne treatment masks.

The controversy started when the boys were accused of performing blackface and were ultimately pressured into withdrawing from the prestigious Mountain View school.

‘It was quite clear the jury believed these were innocent face masks,’ attorney Krista Baughman told the San Francisco Chronicle after Monday’s judgement.

‘They are young kids, their internet trail is going to haunt them for the next 60 years. Now they don’t have to worry about that.’

The teens lost on three other claims alleging breach of contract, defamation and a violation of free speech.

The plaintiffs initially sought $20 million when they filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court, three years after they and a friend – who attended another school and was not included in the lawsuit – snapped a selfie while donning acne treatment masks.

In the offending photo, the boys’ faces were covered in dark green medication. A photo taken a day earlier revealed that they had tried on white face masks as well.

According to documents reviewed by, another SFHS student obtained a copy of the photograph from a friend’s Spotify account and uploaded it to a group chat in June 2020.

The photo resurfaced on the same day recent SFHS graduates created a meme pertaining to the murder of George Floyd, which sparked its own outrage and controversy.

The student insinuated that the teens were using ‘blackface’ and deemed the photo ‘another example’ of racist SFHS students, before urging everyone in the group chat to spread it throughout the school community.

On June 4, 2020, Dean of Students Ray Hisatake called the boys’ parents to ask them if they were aware of the photograph.

The parents asserted that the teens had applied green facemasks three years earlier, ‘with neither ill intent nor racist motivation, nor even knowledge of what “blackface” meant,’ according to the suit.

Less than four business hours later, Principal Katie Teekell called H.H’s parents and said the teen was ‘not welcomed back to SFHS.’

When the boy’s father reiterated that his son had not engaged in blackface, Teekell responded that her decision was not based on ‘intent,’ but ‘optics’ and ‘the harm done to the St. Francis community’.

Teekell said H.H. could choose to ‘voluntarily’ withdraw, rather than be expelled, with the incident scrubbed from his student record.

‘At no time did Ms. Teekell, or anyone else from the SFHS administration, offer to investigate the allegations against the boys, or assist in removing the Photograph in any way,’ the lawsuit asserts.

By June 17 the school’s attorney was telling the families the image’s ‘disrespect was so severe as to warrant immediate dismissal’.

The school then backed a protest by parents who used the image as evidence of ‘kids participating in black face (sic) and thinking that this is all a joke,’ according to a Facebook page.

The teens ultimately withdrew on June 19, but H.H. encountered a problem when he attempted to join the football team at his new school.

Despite Teekell’s promise, SFHS was required to disclose that he had switched schools to avoid disciplinary action. This would see him banned from playing sports for a year, per regional rules.

The lawsuit asserted that the principal’s violation of her verbal agreement constituted a breach of oral contract.

H.H. ultimately moved to Utah with his family in order to be eligible to play football during his senior year of high school.

As part of the jury award, SFHS must reimburse the teen’s moving and living costs.

‘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 joint statement at the time.

‘A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest.

They claimed SFHS and its leadership had ‘rebuffed’ their attempts to correct the misunderstanding and ‘seemed to have no interest in entertaining the truth’.

Judge Thang Barrett decided against dismissing the suit in January 2021, noting that there was no evidence of an investigation into the matter by administrators.

After Monday’s verdict, SFHS released its own statement.

Representatives for the school said they ‘respectfully disagree with the jury’s conclusion as to the lesser claim regarding the fairness of our disciplinary review process’.

SFHS is now ‘exploring legal options,’ including an appeal.