On October 7th of this year, the day of the big Future Spartan Night football game, students at Saeger Middle School were encouraged to celebrate and dress for the occasion. Many wear face paint on Spirit Fridays, as shown on the school’s official Facebook page:
Some members of the Junior Spartans football team had crosses on their cheeks, a common practice with Christian athletes. The crosses were in pink face paint, as the players and cheer leaders wear pink accents during breast cancer awareness month. An assistant principal told four students to wipe the bottom of the crosses from their cheeks, and directed the school resource officer to follow them to the bathroom to wash their faces. The students objected, but were told by three principals and the police officer that they had no choice and they complied.
After a parent complained to the school principal, she responded in an email:
The face paint throughout the school these past few weeks has become rather disruptive with paint being applied to faces here and there throughout school. I would like for all kids to enjoy spirit days, Homecoming, fun activities and all the great experiences of middle school. Some of this face paint is a bit disruptive. We as administrators want the kids to have fun and at the same time know that there are limits and boundaries.
And yet, the school’s own Facebook page includes photos of students with face paint on cheeks, foreheads, around eyes, and on arms and legs. As far as we know, none of these students were asked to remove them. Only students with crosses. In a subsequent email, the principal wrote:
Looks like a mushroom cloud has formed and there is some confusion over what happened. Keeping you posted. I did not have kids remove face paint. I know some kids were asked.
The principal later told the parent that an assistant principal said that the face paint might be misconstrued as “black face” and that the assistant had asked the students to remove the crosses.
On October 27th, one parent met with Superintendent Dr. Roumpos and reviewed school security video which clearly showed that the students were asked to remove the lower part of the crosses on their cheeks. Dr. Roumpos expressed his concern and promised to have a complete investigation of the matter.
Dr. Roumpos and others interviewed about 50 students, and 43 felt that because of what happened that they are not allowed to wear religious symbols at school.
On November 11th, FHSD sent a letter to the complaining parents, confirming that students had been discriminated against based on their religion, a violation of district policy 1300:
As you are aware, on October 13th you submitted a compliance violation form alleging a possible violation of Policy 1300 that resulted from (name redacted) and other students being asked to remove face paint on October 7th.
Subsequently, I conducted an investigation into the allegations as required by Board Policy 1300. I have completed my investigation into this matter and this letter constitutes notice to you of the outcome. Based on a preponderance of evidence, I find that there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim that the incident was a violation of Board Policy 1300.
(name redacted)’s safety, sense of security, and rights to free expression are top priorities. To that end, I have directed Saeger administration to implement a specific set of measures to prevent recurrence and further violation of Board Policy 1300. I look forward to collaborating with you to forge a path forward so that we can all be part of the solution. Somebody from the district office will contact you to arrange a meeting to discuss the investigation and to begin what I hope will be a fruitful partnership.
On December 7th, the parents and students met with the three principals and Compliance Officer Dr. Lucas Lammers. The principal and one assistant principal offered sincere apologies to the students, which were accepted by all. The other assistant principal, who initially demanded the removal of crosses, only said that she was sorry that the boys felt as if they were discriminated against and refused to apologize for any error in judgment. She also insisted that she did not make them remove their face paint. Dr. Lammers interrupted her and said that according to their investigation – she did.
In conclusion, we agree with the parents who attended the meeting:
- The students were clearly discriminated against on the basis of their religion.
- The principal and one assistant principal were involved in the incident, but they offered sincere apologies in good faith.
- The other assistant principal played the primary role in the policy violation. She tried to deny her part, refused to apologize for her judgment, and as an excuse said that crosses could be viewed as a racist symbol.
- Dr. Roumpos and Dr. Lammers have so far managed the process thoroughly and professionally, but we await further action.
What you can do:
- Attend a FHSD School board meeting and stand up for our students’ right to religious expression
See here for schedule and more information
- Contact Superintendent Dr. Roumpos and Board of Education members
- Please contact us to find out more, help us to find and elect a better school board, or to share your concerns and experiences
- Consider making a donation to help us elect better school board members.