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California middle-schooler banned from sports over ‘black face’

A California middle-schooler was suspended for allegedly wearing “blackface” to a local football game — but a national civil rights group claims the boy was just wearing eye paint.
The eighth-grader, only identified as J.A. for privacy reasons, was photographed attending a high school football game between La Jolla High School and Morse High School with dark face paint covering his cheeks and chin on Oct. 13, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
“We had a fun, great night without any trouble,” the boy’s father told Cal Coast News, claiming that a black security guard even encouraged his son to put on more face paint.
But one week after the game, the principal at Muirland Middle School called the boy and his parents to a meeting to inform them that the student would face a two-day suspension and be barred from attending any future athletic events.
A disciplinary notice said J.A. “painted his face black at a football game” and characterized the incident as an “offensive comment, intent to harm.”
Principal Jeff Luna also reportedly noted that the face paint was offensive because Morse High School is “largely black,” according to Cal Coast News.
A middle-school student was suspended and banned from any future sporting events after he was accused of wearing “black face” at a high school football game. Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression
In response, FIRE sent a letter to the principal, claiming he was violating the boy’s First Amendment right, and calling for a reversal of the decision.
“As the First Amendment protects J.A.’s non-disruptive expression of team spirit via a style commonly used by athletes and fans — notwithstanding your inaccurate description of it as ‘blackface’ — FIRE calls on the school to remove the infraction from J.A.’s disciplinary record and lift the ban on his attendance at future athletic events,” Aaron Terr, the group’s director of public advocacy, wrote in the letter on Nov. 8.
He argued that J.A’s “appearance emulated the style of eye black worn by many athletes,” noting that “such use of eye black began as a way to reduce glare during games, but long ago evolved into ‘miniature billboards for personal messages and war-paint slatherings.”
That is different from blackface, he said, which is “‘dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.’
“It has its origins in racist minstrel shows that featured white actors caricaturing Black people, and generally entails covering the entire face in dark makeup and exaggerating certain facial features,” Terr wrote.
“By contrast, J.A.followed a popular warpaint-inspired trend of athletes applying large amounts of eye black under their eyes, which has no racial connotations whatsoever.”
Terr also noted that the student wore the face paint “throughout the game without incident” and pointed to a landmark Supreme Court case upholding students’ First Amendment rights.
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“In the seminal student speech case Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court held the First Amendment protected public school students’ right to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War,” he said.
“The Court made clear school officials cannot restrict student speech based on speculative ‘undifferentiated fear’ that it will cause disruption or feelings or unpleasantness or discomfort among the student body. Rather Tinker requires evidence that the speech has or will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.
“There is no evidence J.A.’s face paint caused a disruption — let alone a material and substantial one — at the football game or at school afterward,” Terr concluded.
“The complete lack of disruption is unsurprising, as the sight of fans in face paint is familiar to and expected by anyone who has ever attended a football game or other sporting event.”
He then called on Muirlands Middle School to reaffirm its “commitment to its binding First Amendment obligations.”
Terr requested a response from the school no later than Nov. 22, but filed another letter to the San Diego Unified School District on Monday after hearing that the district denied his request to overturn J.A.’s suspension the same day FIRE sent the first letter.
The Post has reached out to the San Diego Unified School District and Principal Jeff Luna for comment.

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