Blackface shouldn't be tolerated: parents react to Southern York principal photo

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
Brittany O'Farrell, of Stewartstown, at Southern York County Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A discussion about racial sensitivity continues among residents of Southern York County School District nearly three weeks after pictures posted online showed an administrator wearing blackface in a staff meeting. 

A Jan. 21 tweet showed Friendship Elementary School Principal Lisa Boyer wearing the makeup to portray "Family Feud" host Steve Harvey at a summer staff meeting.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, residents at the Shrewsbury YMCA and around the Arthur Hufnagel Public Library of Glen Rock voiced mixed reactions to Boyer's behavior.

Brittany O'Farrell, a mother of an 8-year-old who attends South Eastern schools, said Boyer's decision was inappropriate. 

"(She's) the face of the school district, and represents all of the demographics," O'Farrell said.

White students outnumber black students by more than 30 to 1 in Southern York County schools. There were 145 African-American students enrolled in the majority white district for the 2017-18 school year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  

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

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As for proper disciplinary action, O'Farrell said she'd "leave it up to the school board" but would suggest some sort of sensitivity training. 

Joe Bernatowitz, a Freeland, Maryland, resident, said he'd want the principal to sit down with residents and publicly explain her behavior. 

Joe Bernatowitz, of Freeland, Md., at Southern York County Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In a statement, the Southern York County School District said the issue was "promptly addressed," not "swept under the rug" as the tweet from a former school employee alleged. 

High standards: Former Baltimore school teacher Carrie Adams said adults, especially educators, should be aware of the historical context of blackface and other instances of cultural appropriation. 

High standards should be held for anyone teaching children, Adams said. 

"And I don't think that a culture is a costume," she said. 

Adams, a Morrisville, Maryland, resident, is a mother of two, ages 4 and 8. 

"I feel that as grown-ups we need to be responsible role models for our kids," she said. 

York NAACP President Sandra Thompson said Superintendent Sandra Lemmon and school board members have since reached out to her to help with cultural sensitivity education efforts. 

A handful of area residents did not view the incident as insensitive or did but felt it was blown out of proportion. Those who said so asked not to be named.  

Carrie Adams, right, with her son Zachary, 4, both of Morrisville, Md., at Southern York County Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Joe Cole, a Stewartstown resident, said blackface should not be tolerated.

"There's nothing more to say," Cole said. 

As a father of four, with kids ages 12 to 25, Cole said he would be uncomfortable if a situation like Boyer's happened in his kids' schools. Cole lives in the South Eastern School District. 

No children were present in school at the time of the August staff meeting. 

Boyer's blackface was reported on the heels of allegations of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam doing the same. A photo in Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook shows two people, one in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. 

Northam denied the allegations by admitting to another instance in which he wore blackface while performing as Michael Jackson at a dance competition in 1984. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface after Northam's scandal emerged. 

Joe Cole, of Stewartstown, at Southern York County Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Mary Bodmann, a Shrewsbury resident, said she doesn't think her young children would understand that Boyer's actions were derogatory. 

Bodmann is a mother of a kindergartner and a first-grader at Shrewsbury Elementary School, one of the two other elementary schools in the Southern York district. 

Regardless, Bodmann doesn't think Boyer's costume was wise. 

"People are just so up in arms these days, it seems like a stupid choice," Bodmann said. "I don't know why anyone would do that in this day and age." 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_