California Students Get $1 Million After Being Expelled for Wearing ‘Racist’ Acne Masks

News & Politics

Three boys who were 14 years old at the time attended a sleepover one night in 2017. One of the boys was suffering from a severe case of acne and had to wear a medicated mask at night. His friends, in joshing solidarity with the young man, also donned the dark green acne masks thinking it made them look silly. They snapped a photo to remember the night.


Three years later during the George Floyd protests, the photo of the three boys in their acne masks surfaced on social media. By that time, the boys were students at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif. Under threat of expulsion, the boys left St. Francis 24 hours after the photograph surfaced.

The families filed suit, and after three years, the families won their point and were awarded $1 million.

“A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest,” the boys’ families said in 2021 when they filed suit.

During the time that the photo surfaced, other St. Francis students were also involved in racist allegations. Because of that, the plaintiffs allege that the school rushed to judgment, blackening the names of the students without ever giving them the opportunity to explain the facts.

“The boys did not use the facemasks or take the photograph with any ill intent, bias or prejudice, let alone in connection with any racist sentiments or epithets,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants took it upon themselves to use the innocent and wholly unrelated photograph of the boys to make the malicious and utterly false accusation that the boys had been engaging in ‘blackface,’ and to recklessly assert that the photograph was ‘another example’ of racism” at St. Francis.


As is usually the case when schools are in the wrong, St. Francis circled the wagons and forced those suing it to dig deep financially and emotionally to see the case through to the end.

And nobody never ever apologized or admitted wrongdoing.

Karin Sweigart, another lawyer at the firm, emphasized that it took four years to definitively refute the school’s erroneous claim about the supposedly racist nature of the photo. “The jury’s verdict finally cleared our clients’ names after four long years of repeated personal attacks from St. Francis High School,” she said. “Schools are supposed to protect and nurture children, not sacrifice them when it is convenient for public relations purposes.”

The school’s representatives said they “respectfully disagree with the jury’s conclusion” about “the fairness of our disciplinary review process.” They added that the school is “exploring legal options,” including a possible appeal.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys note that “St. Francis expelled the boys within 24 hours, without considering their evidence or offering any hearing.” They add that “the school’s actions led to significant personal, educational, and emotional consequences for the students.”


The parents of the boys said despite having “time to reflect and contemplate after the heat of the moment had subsided,” the parents said, St. Francis administrators “don’t regret their actions” and “would do the same thing today.”

The Salem Witch trials were a lot fairer by comparison. And the hysteria in Salem over possible witches was similar to the hysteria that gripped much of the nation after the death of George Floyd. 

That’s not an excuse but rather a warning. Mass media plus social media can create the illusion of reality so powerful that it can destroy lives.

Especially those who don’t deserve it.

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