AHWATUKEE, AZ — An investigation is underway in the Kyrene School District to find out how a picture of a student in blackface found its way into a middle school yearbook.
District spokesperson Erin Helm said superintendent Jan Vesley, Ed.D., was distraught after learning of the photo, which appeared in the 2019 Centennial Middle School yearbook. Administrators are looking into the circumstances surrounding the photo, how it was selected for the yearbook and how many people saw it along the way, Helm said.
A parent of a Centennial student who spoke on the condition we only use her first name, Nicole, said she was leafing through the yearbook when she came across the picture of a student in blackface. There were other students in the shot and their attention not focused on the boy with the painted face.
"I'm curious why they thought it was okay. On what level that picture of a kiddo in blackface is okay to put in a photo album these kids will have for the rest of their lives?" Nicole said.
The student pictured was one of several who had a painted face at school that day as part of a face painting class. The district sent ABC15 a group photo taken the same day, but it was the image of just the one student in blackface, with no caption for context, that made it into the yearbook.
Principal Michelle Anderson expressed shock, according to Helm, after she was told about the picture. The district did not make Anderson available for comment on the yearbook photo. In February, she apologized to Centennial students for comments many thought were insensitive for downplaying the significance of Black History Month.
Helm says the investigation will involve talking with multiple staff members, some of whom are off for the summer, which may delay when officials can talk to them.
"There was no racial motivation, but regardless the photo itself is insensitive and intolerable," Helm said. "The Kyrene School District is making cultural sensitivity and the eradication of bias a priority."