Theater stage.
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for ACM
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for ACM

Atlanta charter school teacher suspended after students' blackface performance

An Atlanta charter school teacher deemed responsible for a second-grade Black History Month performance in which the students held blackface masks has been suspended without pay for a month.

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Rachelle Clay, a teacher at The Kindezi School, will serve the suspension through May 14. The school’s principal, Gilberte Pascal, and eight other teachers will receive letters of reprimand, according to documents obtained Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The discipline follows a March 29 program that included students reciting Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” while holding up the controversial masks, which mimicked the look of makeup worn by white minstrel show performers beginning around the 1830s. The production was “not done with ill intent” but “demonstrated a significant lack of professional judgement,” Kindezi Executive Director Dean Leeper wrote in a letter to school families. 

The school’s internal investigation found that some members of the second-grade team had reservations about the use of the masks but did not make their positions known to Clay or administrators. One person did not allow her students to wear the masks in rehearsal, though they were worn by students during the performance, sparking outrage from some parents and a viral video recording on social media.

Earlier this week, Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen called for the charter school that operates within the Atlanta Public Schools district to hand out “appropriate consequences.” A school district spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Kindezi’s investigation. 

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