Expelled Students Win $1 Million for False ‘Blackface’ Allegations

Two wrongly expelled high school students have won $1 million in compensation after they were falsely accused of wearing “blackface” and publicly smeared as “racist.”

The students filed a lawsuit after they were expelled from St. Francis High School in California.

The legal team leading the case has just announced that the court handed them a $1 million verdict in the fight over the wrongful expulsion.

The students, Holden Hughes and Aaron Hartley, will get $500,000 each from St. Francis High School.

Hughes and Hartley were swept up in the racial controversy amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

They will also be reimbursed for tuition, which was estimated to be $70,000 total for their three years attending the school at 1885 Miramonte Ave.

Additionally, the ruling means that schools now are on notice to provide “fair procedures” to students in disciplinary actions.

In a statement, attorney Krista Boughman, of the Dhillon Law Group that fought the case, said:

“This case is significant not only for our clients but for its groundbreaking effect on all private high schools in California, which are now legally required to provide fair procedure to students before punishing or expelling them.

“The jury rightly confirmed that St. Francis High School’s procedures were unfair to our clients and that the school is not above the law.”

The private high school in Mountain View expelled the two students after a photo of them wearing acne masks was interpreted as blackface.

The legal team said the two students, in solidarity with a friend who was instructed by a doctor to use the face mask, also wore the medication.

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Several years later, a photo of the students wearing the mask surfaced, and school officials charged they were in “blackface.”

Baughman said the ruling extends protections from a California Supreme Court decision that mandated fair procedure rights for students at private universities.

This case extends these protections to private high schools, including religious institutions, ensuring students receive notice of charges and a fair opportunity to respond before getting disciplined, Baughman said.

Spokeswoman Jamie Perkins for St. Francis High School sent a statement:

“We respectfully disagree with the jury’s conclusion … regarding the fairness of our disciplinary review process and are exploring legal options, including appeal as there is no legal precedent applying that claim to a high school …

“We look forward to putting this matter behind us so we can return to focusing solely on educating our vibrant student body and living the Catholic values of the Holy Cross tradition, which are rooted in hope, respect, integrity, and family.”

A jury of 12 reached their verdict on Monday afternoon after seeing 20 days of testimony.

Jurors deliberated for three days at the courthouse in downtown San Jose.

Hughes and Hartley both took the stand, court records show.

The picture of the boys, taken at a sleepover in August 2017, went viral during the violent Black Lives Matter riots in the Summer of 2020.

The image sparked a parent-led protest in June 2020.

Within 24 hours, administrators said the boys could either leave or be expelled ahead of their senior year, the suit said.

The “blackface” was actually a green face mask that darkened, the suit said.

Parent Alicia Labana was named in the original lawsuit for allegedly posting the photo on Facebook while organizing a march at the school.

But Judge Thang Barrett dismissed Labana from the suit, saying she has broad free-speech immunity.

Because of the controversy, Hughes said his family put up security cameras around their home and asked Los Altos police to do extra patrols.

Hartley said he had to move three hours away to finish high school online without getting harassed or ridiculed.

The boys said the controversy jeopardized their future college and career prospects.

They lost friends, sleep, and the final year of their high school experience, according to the lawsuit.

The jury found that St. Francis High School didn’t violate the students’ free speech rights nor defame the students, according to the school.

The jury did find that Principal Katie Teekell violated a nondisclosure agreement with Hughes, Baughman said.

The families put out a statement saying that 20% of their boys’ lives have been spent on the four-year legal process.

However, they noted that the sacrifice was worth it to clear their names.

“Schools are supposed to protect and nurture children, not sacrifice them when it is convenient for public relations purposes,” the Hughes family said.

They called on the Board of Directors to hold Teekell and President Jason Curtis accountable.

“Despite being afforded time to reflect and contemplate after the heat of the moment had subsided, President Jason Curtis and Principal Katie Teekell don’t regret their actions,” the family said.

“They would do the same thing today.”

READ MORE – Ohio Doctor Reinstated after Being Smeared as ‘Conspiracy Theorist,’ Stripped of Medical License for Covid Shot Warnings

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