KHS administration addresses alleged blackface incident


photo by Christian Baker

Kennady Wade, editor-in-chief

Two KHS students exited their science class with black charcoal substance smeared on their face Oct. 6. Several classmates were offended by the charcoal’s similarity to blackface  (makeup traditionally used by a non-black performer to appear black to imply patronization of blacks) and went to administrators who spoke to the students with the charcoal on their face. In a subsequent meeting between those offended, one of the students directly involved and administrators, it was understood the charcoal was not intended as blackface.

At the following KSD school board meeting Oct. 10, about 40 parents and alumni voiced concerns to the board about the incident. Following the meeting, St. Louis Public Radio posted a story to their website about the incident and the board meeting which included a quote with false information, according to KHS administration.

Dr. Michael Havener, principal, sent this letter to the Kirkwood Community to update them on the situation and clear up any falsehoods and rumors Oct. 17:

Dear KHS Family and Kirkwood Community,

At Kirkwood High School, we strive to create learning environments where every student feels safe, respected, and has the opportunity to grow and discover his/her unique contributions. Therefore, when one of our students feels offended by the behavior of a classmate or faculty member, we take it seriously and give it our most careful attention.

On Thursday, October 6, two of our students were seen with a black charcoal substance smeared on their faces. Several classmates were offended by the similarity to “blackface,” a degrading form of entertainment.  These classmates told an administrator who immediately went to find the students. One of the students later apologized, saying that was not their intention.

It was subsequently reported by two students that a KHS staff member responded in an insensitive and threatening manner. Since then, the situation has been thoroughly investigated and reviewed. We were able to determine that one of the students was not present during the incident and additional student witnesses refuted the accusations of aggression. The school security video plus statements by eyewitnesses, including students and staff, substantiate the explanation given by the staff member. At no time did the staff member respond with physical aggression or show evidence of inappropriate or threatening behavior. We regret that this event was reported by news agencies before the investigation was completed.

As the Principal of Kirkwood High School, I have the utmost respect for each person on our faculty and staff and appreciate the time, care and skill they bring to their work. Equally as important to me is the value and significance of every student entrusted to our care, no matter his or her race, gender or religion. As one community, we will continue to pursue conversations about racial discrimination and what we can do to seek better understanding, compassion and sensitivity for each other.

Dr. Mike Havener

Principal of Kirkwood High School