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Pennsylvania high school formally apologizes for band uniforms worn during football game

JONATHAN D. SILVER
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
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The Peters Township School District has formally apologized to the Woodland Hills School District for the outfits some of its marching band members wore last week during a high school football playoff game.

The costumes worn by at least two students in the overwhelmingly white Peters district — black full-body spandex known as "morph suits" that were perceived by some as having racist overtones — drew outrage and condemnation from athletes, cheerleaders, coaches and spectators in the Woodland Hills district, which is predominantly Black.

In a letter dated Tuesday and posted to the Woodland Hills' website, Peters Superintendent Jeannine French told her counterpart, James Harris, at Woodland Hills that an initial investigation revealed that "the involved students chose the costumes without racist or harmful intent."

"Nonetheless," French continued, "their choice of costumes, in the context of [the] game, was insensitive."

French wrote that there were "multiple missed opportunities for adults present at the game to address the costumes prior to the students entering the field."

Until now it had been unclear whether any adults were aware that the students were going to appear during the pregame performance wearing such costumes, and if they had an opportunity to intervene.

Peters handily won the home game, 39-6, Friday night. At least two drum majors wore the spandex outfits; one marching member wore white shorts; the other wore a white Marilyn Monroe-style dress and wig.

"For the harm and hurt that our actions and inactions caused to the Woodland Hills football team, cheerleaders, fans, administration, and school community, we sincerely apologize," French said. "I would like to personally thank you, the Woodland Hills Coaches, and Athletic Director for your pursuit of change over blame, and your willingness to work with us to turn a hurtful situation into a teachable moment calling for us to do better and be better."

Earlier this week, Woodland Hills Athletic Director Ron Coursey, who is Black, characterized the incident as a teachable moment. He was the administrator who brought the situation to the attention of Peters officials after being alerted to it by upset cheerleaders and coaches from his team. Coursey is the former athletic director at York High.

Harris, the Woodland Hills superintendent, said he was pleased by the response from French and the Peters school board.

" Dr. French called me a couple of times, told me she was going to send it. I'm just happy that she was so positively reactive to the situation, her and the board," Harris said Wednesday, adding that several Peters board members had reached out to him privately to express regret over the situation.

French asked how things could be improved, Harris said. Woodland Hills has historically encountered racial problems when competing in the South Hills, according to Coursey, and athletes and cheerleaders are routinely cautioned before away games to not let any slurs or epithets that might be shouted ruffle them.

Harris said he told his counterpart that both districts' athletic directors were working well together, and they discussed implicit bias training.

"I just think this is going to be possibly a turning point for them in making the environment more inclusive for others," Harris said. "It's a bad situation that can have a positive outcome."