News

Families file $20M defamation lawsuit against Saint Francis, defending sons against blackface allegations

President of private Catholic high school in Mountain View named in suit

Alicia Labana, a co-organizer of the protest and a parent of a Saint Francis High School student, leads a chant at the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real in Mountain View on June 8, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The parents of two former Saint Francis High School students have sued the Mountain View private Catholic school for $20 million, alleging their sons were falsely accused of wearing blackface in photographs when they were just wearing face masks to treat acne.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2020, accuses Saint Francis of upending the two teenagers' lives by mistakenly pointing to the photo while another controversy unfolded over students posting racist images to Instagram. It also names President Jason Curtis and Alicia Labana, a Saint Francis parent, as defendants.

"In defendants' hurried attempt to ensure their perception as social justice warriors in the face of an unfolding scandal, and without any efforts to ascertain the true state of affairs, defendants pointed to 3-year-old photograph of plaintiffs that was taken entirely out of context, to falsely accuse plaintiffs of having committed an overt act of racism ... and to scapegoat them for the misconduct of other students," the lawsuit states.

Attorneys for Saint Francis, Curtis and Labana denied the allegations, according to case documents. The attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement provided to the Voice by a publicist, the school said: "Saint Francis High School is committed to creating an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included. Due to student privacy laws, we cannot comment on disciplinary actions or pending litigation involving students."

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The lawsuit identifies the two teenagers by their initials, A.H. and H.H.

When asked for comment, the boys said in a statement through their attorney: "This lawsuit is our attempt to redeem our names and reputations, and to correct the record to reflect the truth of what actually happened -- three and a half years ago, at the age of 14, we tried acne face masks to correct teenage acne before we started high school. A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest.

"In conjunction with the school and the community, our families sought to be a part of a solution to this obvious misunderstanding, so that the entire (Saint Francis) community could get to a better place, and we were rebuffed by SFHS and its leadership, who seemed to have no interest in entertaining the truth," they said.

In 2017, according to the lawsuit, a 14-year-old A.H. and a friend applied white-colored acne face masks and took a picture of themselves. The next day, joined by H.H., the friend posted another photo of the three teenagers wearing face masks which the lawsuit says were light green but turned dark green when they dried.

Three years later, protests erupted after current and former Saint Francis students were linked to an Instagram account that posted a racist image making fun of George Floyd, the man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. A.H. and H.H. had no affiliation with this Instagram account, according to the lawsuit.

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But another Saint Francis student obtained the second photo of the boys, in which they claim they were wearing dark green face masks, and posted it to a group chat, naming the three boys and alleging they were engaging in blackface. The photo spread throughout the Saint Francis community and was posted to a Facebook page promoting a community protest, according to the lawsuit, including a reference to "kids participating in black face and thinking that this is all a joke."

Blackface has a long history of being used to mock Black people in dehumanizing ways.

Labana organized the protest, during which she publicly called for the boys' expulsion. The lawsuit also cites an interview the Mountain View Voice conducted with Curtis at the time, including his statement that the school had looked into an additional incident that involved the use of blackface.

A group of people at the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street in Mountain View gathered to protest the racist actions of students at Saint Francis High School and call on the school's administration to discipline them, on June 8, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Within a few hours, despite their parents' explanation of the "innocent" nature of the photo, Saint Francis informed both boys' parents that they were not welcomed back to the high school and could voluntarily withdraw to avoid expulsion, the lawsuit claims.

The high school failed to investigate the allegations against the students, the families said, and has mishandled other reports of racist conduct.

"It is SFHS'S pattern and practice to sweep incidents of student racism under the rug when doing so would benefit SFHS'S reputation, and to scapegoat students (regardless of their level of fault) when doing so would be better for the school or administration's public perception and ability to collect monetary contributions," the lawsuit states.

They're seeking damages for both emotional and financial impacts as well as reimbursement of $140,000 in combined tuition. The families said that Saint Francis would inform future schools they transferred to that the boys had left due to a "disciplinary situation," which allegedly disrupted H.H.'s ability to play football and lacrosse. H.H. has since moved out of the state so he can participate in sports, with his mother and father staying with him on a rotating basis, according to the lawsuit. A.H. and his parents moved three hours away and he is completing his high school education online, the lawsuit said.

Both families have incurred financial expenses to relocate and have suffered harassment in the wake of the case, the lawsuit alleges.

Attorneys for Labana filed an anti-SLAPP motion -- or strategic lawsuits against public participation involving speech on a matter of public concern -- to strike the complaint. Judge Thang Barrett granted her motion in January. The families are currently appealing that decision.

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Families file $20M defamation lawsuit against Saint Francis, defending sons against blackface allegations

President of private Catholic high school in Mountain View named in suit

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Mar 1, 2021, 12:19 pm
Updated: Mon, Mar 1, 2021, 3:10 pm

The parents of two former Saint Francis High School students have sued the Mountain View private Catholic school for $20 million, alleging their sons were falsely accused of wearing blackface in photographs when they were just wearing face masks to treat acne.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2020, accuses Saint Francis of upending the two teenagers' lives by mistakenly pointing to the photo while another controversy unfolded over students posting racist images to Instagram. It also names President Jason Curtis and Alicia Labana, a Saint Francis parent, as defendants.

"In defendants' hurried attempt to ensure their perception as social justice warriors in the face of an unfolding scandal, and without any efforts to ascertain the true state of affairs, defendants pointed to 3-year-old photograph of plaintiffs that was taken entirely out of context, to falsely accuse plaintiffs of having committed an overt act of racism ... and to scapegoat them for the misconduct of other students," the lawsuit states.

Attorneys for Saint Francis, Curtis and Labana denied the allegations, according to case documents. The attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement provided to the Voice by a publicist, the school said: "Saint Francis High School is committed to creating an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included. Due to student privacy laws, we cannot comment on disciplinary actions or pending litigation involving students."

The lawsuit identifies the two teenagers by their initials, A.H. and H.H.

When asked for comment, the boys said in a statement through their attorney: "This lawsuit is our attempt to redeem our names and reputations, and to correct the record to reflect the truth of what actually happened -- three and a half years ago, at the age of 14, we tried acne face masks to correct teenage acne before we started high school. A photograph of this innocent event was plucked from obscurity and grossly mischaracterized during the height of nationwide social unrest.

"In conjunction with the school and the community, our families sought to be a part of a solution to this obvious misunderstanding, so that the entire (Saint Francis) community could get to a better place, and we were rebuffed by SFHS and its leadership, who seemed to have no interest in entertaining the truth," they said.

In 2017, according to the lawsuit, a 14-year-old A.H. and a friend applied white-colored acne face masks and took a picture of themselves. The next day, joined by H.H., the friend posted another photo of the three teenagers wearing face masks which the lawsuit says were light green but turned dark green when they dried.

Three years later, protests erupted after current and former Saint Francis students were linked to an Instagram account that posted a racist image making fun of George Floyd, the man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. A.H. and H.H. had no affiliation with this Instagram account, according to the lawsuit.

But another Saint Francis student obtained the second photo of the boys, in which they claim they were wearing dark green face masks, and posted it to a group chat, naming the three boys and alleging they were engaging in blackface. The photo spread throughout the Saint Francis community and was posted to a Facebook page promoting a community protest, according to the lawsuit, including a reference to "kids participating in black face and thinking that this is all a joke."

Blackface has a long history of being used to mock Black people in dehumanizing ways.

Labana organized the protest, during which she publicly called for the boys' expulsion. The lawsuit also cites an interview the Mountain View Voice conducted with Curtis at the time, including his statement that the school had looked into an additional incident that involved the use of blackface.

Within a few hours, despite their parents' explanation of the "innocent" nature of the photo, Saint Francis informed both boys' parents that they were not welcomed back to the high school and could voluntarily withdraw to avoid expulsion, the lawsuit claims.

The high school failed to investigate the allegations against the students, the families said, and has mishandled other reports of racist conduct.

"It is SFHS'S pattern and practice to sweep incidents of student racism under the rug when doing so would benefit SFHS'S reputation, and to scapegoat students (regardless of their level of fault) when doing so would be better for the school or administration's public perception and ability to collect monetary contributions," the lawsuit states.

They're seeking damages for both emotional and financial impacts as well as reimbursement of $140,000 in combined tuition. The families said that Saint Francis would inform future schools they transferred to that the boys had left due to a "disciplinary situation," which allegedly disrupted H.H.'s ability to play football and lacrosse. H.H. has since moved out of the state so he can participate in sports, with his mother and father staying with him on a rotating basis, according to the lawsuit. A.H. and his parents moved three hours away and he is completing his high school education online, the lawsuit said.

Both families have incurred financial expenses to relocate and have suffered harassment in the wake of the case, the lawsuit alleges.

Attorneys for Labana filed an anti-SLAPP motion -- or strategic lawsuits against public participation involving speech on a matter of public concern -- to strike the complaint. Judge Thang Barrett granted her motion in January. The families are currently appealing that decision.

Comments

roaksinri
Registered user
another community
on Mar 1, 2021 at 5:11 pm
roaksinri, another community
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2021 at 5:11 pm

Another example of the Toxic state-run "public" schools. Protected by the state, these administrators run roughshod over students and parents, regularly ignore any due process in their explicitly articulated goals of promoting and indoctrinating hearts and minds to a leftist, progressive, and "woke" agenda. Of course, the media is complicit in this situation as well. Where was the intense "investigative journalism" that would have unearthed the "facts " of the situation? That would have exposed the "inconvenient truth" that expensive litigation is now exposing. Of course all the "social justice warriors" are saying nothing now- hiding behind "student privacy" and clever "First Amendment Rights" protections. And the news outlets are also silent- where are the indignant Op-Ed pieces now, bemoaning the "rush" to judgement and lack of "due process"?
Or are those sentiments only reserved for the current fad of hand wringing over "systemic racism"? Misuse of power and manipulation of "newspeak" to ruin the lives and reputations of children and their families in the name of "social justice" and "wokeness" is apparently perfectly fine in this sad and twisted age.


Jack Cormode
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Mar 1, 2021 at 6:08 pm
Jack Cormode, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2021 at 6:08 pm

The first commenter refers to "Toxic state-run "public" schools". The last time I checked, St. Francis High School was a parochial school. The rest of the message should be disregarded since the writer does not have the basic facts correct.


corrections
Registered user
Willowgate
on Mar 1, 2021 at 10:48 pm
corrections, Willowgate
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2021 at 10:48 pm

Interesting that the parents chose Harmeet Dhillon to represent them. Web Link


roaksinri
Registered user
another community
on Mar 2, 2021 at 2:41 pm
roaksinri, another community
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 2:41 pm

"Parochial" school/Public school- not much difference- especially with the "woke" Pope currently in charge- I stand by my comments, whether Mr. Commode likes them or not. Cancel culture be damned...


@roaksinri
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Mar 2, 2021 at 3:47 pm
@roaksinri, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2021 at 3:47 pm

There’s a huge difference between the “state run public schools “ you ranted about in your first comment and the private school that St. Francis actually is. Also, it’s a little odd for you to complain that the media isn’t covering this...in the comments section of a media article covering this.


L S
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Mar 3, 2021 at 7:30 am
L S , St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2021 at 7:30 am

Even worse, if you actually read the lawsuit, as I have, when HH's mother's tries to contact Alicia Labana to tell her the picture was acne, Labana called the police on her for harrassmennt.

Sounds very much like Amy Cooper calling the police on Christian Cooper in Central Park, doesn't it?


Nora S.
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Mar 3, 2021 at 3:06 pm
Nora S., Rex Manor
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2021 at 3:06 pm

It makes me sad that, because as a community we recognize so few remedies for such actions, the school saw no disciplinary alternative to expulsion. Even leaving aside the question of whether the masks were a deliberate attempt to create blackface, this incident would have been far better handled using some combination of education and restorative justice. I mean, these are minors we are talking about, and the job of the school is to educate. How can they not have found a better path for all concerned?


corrections
Registered user
Willowgate
on Mar 4, 2021 at 3:47 am
corrections, Willowgate
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 3:47 am

The connection to Dhillon comes from A.H.'s father, who made a $1000 donation to the Trump campaign in November 2016.

@L S: the document you read presents only the plaintiff's side of the story. We have no information from A.L. about why she contacted the police about that call. If W.C. was (understandably) irate, A.L. would (understandably) feel threatened.


LongTime-MV
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Mar 4, 2021 at 4:25 pm
LongTime-MV, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Mar 4, 2021 at 4:25 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


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