Shelley School District and a local branch of the NAACP issued statements following controversial pictures posted to social media last week by Shelley High School.
The pictures were from the high school’s annual Russet Olympics, where students dressed in school colors. A few students in the black spirit group painted their entire faces black, which prompted backlash from many members of the East Idaho community over similarities to “blackface” after the high school posted the images on its Facebook page Thursday.
The school deleted the post shortly after making it, though not before the offending images were copied and spread to other Facebook and social media platforms.
Shelley School District Superintendent Chad Williams on Monday sent the Post Register a statement that had been posted earlier on the high school and district website. In the statement, Shelley School District officials invited people to attend the Russet Olympics in the future and see the “inclusive unifying environment” of the annual event.
“It is unfortunate that some are mischaracterizing this year’s event. We would ask that you please not use this positive, unifying event as a reason to divide. It is never our intention to offend or demean. We will utilize this as a learning opportunity,” the district’s statement read.
Neither Williams nor Shelley High School Principal Burke Davis returned a request for comment from the Post Register about what changes would be involved in the “learning opportunity.”
The Pocatello branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) addressed the controversy in a Facebook post Sunday. In the post, the NAACP chapter explained the history around the use of blackface while saying it was unclear if students knew how offensive the images would be to the Black community.
“What we do know, is that responsible adults at the event should have known and counseled the students that what they were doing was inappropriate. We also know that photos of the students should never have made it onto the school’s Facebook page,” the NAACP wrote.