School issues apology after principal appears in blackface as Steve Harvey at staff meeting

Elise Solé
Lisa Boyer, principal of Friendship Elementary School in Glen Rock, Pa., wore blackface last August at a staff meeting. After photos were leaked, the principal and the district apologized. (Screenshot: Twitter/TheCoachesPick)

An elementary school principal wore blackface to dress as comedian Steve Harvey at an all-white staff meeting, and the school district has apologized for the incident and denied that it tried to suppress news of the incident.

Lisa Boyer, the principal of Friendship Elementary School in Glen Rock, Pa., wore the costume on Aug. 20 to a staff in-service meeting, when students were home from school, according to the York Dispatch. In a “team-building” exercise — for a reportedly white staff — Boyer enacted a mock game of the television show Family Feud, which is hosted by Harvey, and wore a men’s suit, a cap to cover her blond hair, fake eyebrows and a mustache.

Boyer also applied “makeup on her face to darken her skin color,” according to a statement by Southern York County School District Superintendent Sandra Lemmon, which was sent to Yahoo Lifestyle. 

The letter read, “The School District’s central office administration was advised of the principal appearance later that same day, and the incident was immediately investigated. After completing the investigation, the principal was disciplined and apologized to school staff who were present for the incident. The central office administration also made clear to the principal that such conduct violated both the letter and the spirit of the School District’s nondiscrimination policies. This matter was not ‘swept under the rug,’ it was promptly addressed — and it was made clear that this incident was inappropriate within the school setting. The School District has, and will continue to strive, to offer both its students and employees a school environment that is free from racially insensitive conduct.”

The district also shared a Jan. 31 letter sent to parents after the story attracted media coverage, detailing plans to expand on “K-12 cultural and diversity awareness initiatives” to “strengthen the respectful and inclusive environments in our schools.”

Boyer told a reporter at the York Daily Record,I’m sorry, but I really want to put this behind me and am saddened that you don’t understand this. I have shared my comments in my email.”

The principal’s email to the Record read, “My intention was never to offend anyone; however, I understand now how my actions could be viewed as insensitive and inappropriate. I deeply regret my decision and have learned from it. Even though I did not have ill intent, my poor choice was addressed by both the administrative team and school board. On top of those repercussions, I publicly apologized to staff and met with some parents as well.”

Friendship Elementary School in Glen Rock, Pa. (Screenshot: WTOL)

She wrote, “Though this was poor judgment on my part, I plan to use this example to help students learn from my mistake so that we may all understand how to be sensitive to all cultures. For the past 30 years, I have devoted my life to helping and educating children to be the best people they can be through spreading kindness. I truly care about people and pray that you understand that as well.”

Sandra Thompson, president of the NAACP in York, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Boyer’s actions are disappointing, given her position. “She is training young minds who will go on to train others,” she says. “We should hold her to a higher standard and eliminate any excuses.” 

“It’s hard to be unaware of the hurt caused by blackface,” she said. “The historical pain hasn’t healed and wounds are reopened each time we hear of something like this.”

Thompson is meeting with students, teachers and the school’s diversity committee to learn whether blackface was an isolated occurrence. “The school board is trying to include us, and teachers at the meeting were adamant they didn’t condone the principal’s behavior — I applaud them for that,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “That’s a good step toward changing the narrative.”

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