Principal who wore blackface taking sabbatical, returning as teacher

Friendship Elementary School Principal Lisa Boyer dons blackface as Steve Harvey in staff game of "Family Feud" in August 2018.

A Southern York County School District principal who wore blackface during a staff meeting will return as a teacher after a one-year sabbatical.

Lisa Boyer's yearlong leave "for restoration of health" was approved  at a June 20 school board meeting, according to minutes.

The Friendship Elementary School principal is slated to return after the 2019-20 school year in a teaching position within the district, minutes state.

It was approved with a unanimous 6-0 vote, with members John Dorr Jr., Jerri Groncki and Ronald Groncki absent.

Last summer, Boyer donned a fake mustache, a cap to cover her hair, a man's suit and skin-darkening makeup for her costume of black Family Feud host Steve Harvey during a staff team-building exercise.

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A former food service contract employee had tweeted about the incident in January, claiming it was "swept under the rug," a statement which Superintendent Sandra Lemmon disagreed with in a letter sent to the district community.

She noted in the letter that the issue was "promptly addressed," and Boyer was disciplined within days. 

It was later reported that Lemmon had given the OK to Boyer's costume via an email, but Lemmon said at no point had blackface or darkening of skin color been discussed, and permission would not have been granted if it had.

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Friendship Elementary students in grades 4-6 recently participated in the National Geographic Bee. Pictured are, from left,  Lisa Boyer, assistant principal; students Theodore Hill, Grade 5, first place, Lachlan Gemmill-Edwards, Grade 4, second place, and MacKenzie Dryden, Grade 5, third place; and Beth Koontz, principal.

Boyer apologized and has since taken voluntary steps to increase her diversity awareness. Lemmon has said the district met with representatives from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, NAACP York, the Confronting Racism Initiative and the York Jewish Community Center to improve on current initiatives.

Board member Deborah Kalina — the wife of Dispatch photographer Bill Kalina —declined to comment on whether the sabbatical or change of position was related to last summer's incident. Kalina referred The York Dispatch to Assistant Superintendent Robert Bryson.

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Bryson said it was Boyer's decision to request the sabbatical, and "both parties agreed" that she would not return as an administrator.

Boyer has already started her sabbatical. She was not available for comment, district officials said. 

Bryson would not comment on the reason for the change because it would not be appropriate to cite his own opinions or "conjecture on her personal thoughts,” he said.

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The Public School Code allows employees to take a sabbatical for either restoration of health or professional development, provided they meet the other requirements for leave, such as requisite years of service, according to a district news release.

"We wish Mrs. Boyer well, and look forward to her continued support of the district and its students in a different, but equally important, role in the future," the release states.

A search is underway for a new Friendship Elementary principal.