Kyrene School District officials are investigating how a photo of a white Centennial Middle School student with his face painted black got into the school’s yearbook.
District spokeswoman Erin Helm and board member John King said that while “there was no racial motivation on the part of the student,” the photo should have never slipped by the people who review the yearbook’s content before it’s sent to the printer.
“The day the photo was taken, theater students engaged in a section on theatrical makeup, based on fictional characters,” Helm said. “This student chose a robot from a video game or comic, and the robot is black. That in no way excuses the situation, but is shared to illustrate that there was no racial motivation on the part of the student.”
Helm also said that “multiple people were involved in the compilation and proof-reading of the yearbook” and that the district was attempting to interview everyone involved — a task complicated by the fact that some likely are away for the summer.
A source said volunteers, mainly parents and community members, are involved in reviewing the yearbooks.
“We’re trying very hard to protect the child in the photo, since he is innocent of any wrong-doing,” Helm said.
The incident comes at a time when Kyrene is spending thousands of dollars on “equity training” aimed at making all school employees and students more sensitive to other races and cultures.
“Kyrene School District recently engaged the services of outside consultants to help the district and all schools tackle issues of equity and diversity, with a focus on staff training,” Helm said, adding:
“Kyrene has made it a priority to focus on cultural sensitivity and implicit bias.”
“The photo in the Centennial Middle School yearbook is inexcusable, particularly without noted context,” King said, stressing again, “The student in the photo is not in blackface, and there is no racial motivation for the face paint.”
Although a white parent was anonymously interviewed on at least one local television station last week questioning the inclusion of the photo, it does not seem to have triggered any criticism from the Black Mothers Forum, which has criticized Kyrene and other local school districts for racially insensitive actions and policies in the past.
Centennial Principal Michelle Anderson came under fire and later apologized over comments she made during a broadcast to students Feb. 27.
In what she later said were remarks that “may have been unintentionally hurtful to some of our students,” Anderson said multiple students ask why the school did not celebrate Black History Month.
“We haven’t because we celebrate all cultures all day long,” she said in the first video, and added that students should organize their own activities to celebrate months dedicated to specific cultures or women.
The Black Mothers Forum accused Anderson of not caring about different cultures.
The Kyrene school board backed Anderson, praising her administration of Centennial and her concern for the welfare of all students.