Four suspended for blackface costumes

Nov 2, 2013 by

Three Serra High School staff members and a volunteer coach will be suspended for wearing blackface at a Halloween party and then posting photos of the event on Facebook, San Diego Unified officials said Friday.

Alongside representatives of the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, district Superintendent Cindy Marten announced at a news conference what she described as a resolution to the controversy that has drawn national attention. Marten also renewed her promise to improve diversity of the district workforce and better train employees on cultural sensitivity issues.

“The situation at Serra High School … does not reflect the values of our district or our school,” Marten said. “The incident represents a teachable moment and reminds us as a community and a district of the importance of recognizing and appreciating multiple perspectives.”

Photos of varsity football coach and physical education teacher Brian Basteyns, teacher and assistant football coach Howard Seeley, a teacher who has not been publicly identified and a volunteer coach were posted Monday following a Halloween event that previous weekend. The men wore blackface and dressed as members of the Jamaican bobsled team, a real group that made its debut in the 1988 Olympics and inspired the movie “Cool Runnings.”

The three teachers will serve two days of suspension without pay for unprofessional conduct, a violation of the California Education Code. The walk-on coach will be removed from duties for the same period.

None of the educators involved in the blackface event has been available for comment. However, Marten said they are “very regretful for the incident and express that they never meant any malicious intent to any person or group.”

She added that as San Diego Unified continues to offer anti-bias diversity training across the district, it will make special efforts to work with employees at Serra High School.

The local chapter of the NAACP, which had called for the targeted coaches to resign, said it was satisfied with the district’s response to the situation. The Anti-Defamation League, which had offered to work with San Diego Unified to “rid our community of harmful bias,” was also content with the outcome.

“There is nothing funny about blackface. It’s racist, it promotes stereotypes and it’s wrong. I hope this leads to a meaningful dialogue and I hope we don’t have to address this again next year,” said Lei-Chala I. Wilson, president of the San Diego branch of the NAACP.

Several students at Serra High and others have spoken up in support of the coaches, saying they are caring and upstanding educators.

“I guess I understand the suspensions, but I thought the whole thing was blown out of proportion,” Serra High junior Zane Nathaniel, 16, said Friday. “I’ve had coach Basteyns for P.E. and he is a great teacher, an all-around good guy. There is nothing racist about him.”

Xavier John, also a junior at Serra High, said Friday that he had no problem with the costumes.

“My mom thought the costumes were offensive, but they didn’t bother me,” said Xavier, who is black. “The costumes were from characters in a movie.”

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