York principal condemned for blackface got 'Yes!!!!' from district beforehand

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

Southern York County School District's superintendent not only knew about but gave a whopping "Yes!!!!" to an elementary school principal's request to attend a faculty meeting dressed as black "Family Feud" host Steve Harvey, according to emails obtained by The York Dispatch through a freedom of information request. 

Friendship Elementary School Principal Lisa Boyer's costume was later condemned by members of the public after a photo of her during the August meeting was shared on Twitter. 

Boyer attached an image of Steve Harvey when emailing Superintendent Sandra Lemmon for permission before the meeting.

"I was going to just do this, but then thought I should make sure. At the end of our first faculty meeting, we are playing the game Family Feud. I actually purchased stuff for a Steve Harvey costume. He is the host. Is this okay?" Boyer wrote to Lemmon on Aug. 15. 

Lemmon responded a minute later: "Yes!!!!"

Students in grades 4, 5 and 6 in the Southern York County School District recently participated in this year’s National Geography Bee. Pictured from Friendship Elementary are, from left, Lisa Boyer, assistant principal; Sienna Kopp, second place; Mackenzie Dryden, first place; Beth Koontz, principal; and Alex Stare, third place.

Lemmon said although Boyer requested permission to dress as Harvey, "at no point was discussion had by email or in person of her darkening her skin color or appearing in blackface," according to a letter sent out to district residents last week.

Lemmon said she believed the costume would include a suit, mustache and eyebrows. 

"Permission to darken her face or appear in blackface would not have been granted," Lemmon said. 

Lemmon prefaces her comments in the letter by saying the district continues to "receive request for information related to the incident," including a local media source requesting copies of the emails mentioned above. 

'Disciplinary consequence': According to the district's letter, Boyer "received a disciplinary consequence, apologized and wholeheartedly is participating in ongoing training to increase her awareness of cultural sensitivity."

Lemmon told The York Dispatch she could not say what the disciplinary consequence is, as it is a personnel matter. Boyer is still principal of Friendship Elementary, based on the district website. 

From left, Southern York High School Librarian Kayse Corrieri, Friendship Elementary School Librarian Anne Bozievich and Superintendent Dr. Sandra Lemmon pose for their award for Outstanding School Administrator by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.

The tweet with Boyer's photo had accused the district of doing "nothing about it." After the photo was leaked, Lemmon issued a statement saying the matter was "promptly addressed."

Lemmon told The York Dispatch the district met with representatives from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, NAACP York, Confronting Racism Initiative and the York Jewish Community Center to improve on current initiatives. 

"We have things in place we are very proud of, and that's the focus to have an inclusive environment. But we do need to take a look at how to continue to get better and grow in those areas each day," she said. 

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York NAACP President Sandra Thompson previously said she was "encouraged by the school district's efforts" to work with her to improve existing programs.

The initial meeting was held in March and included members of the administration, teacher's association, school board and social workers.

"We are just now from that (meeting) dividing into subcommittees and taking a look at just different initiatives we can continue to do ... really a continuation of our journey and core beliefs of an inclusive environment for all students," Lemmon said. 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_.