By the Daily Post staff
St. Francis Catholic High School in Mountain View is fighting a $20 million lawsuit that claims it forced out two teenage boys because school administrators thought they had posed for blackface photos when they were actually wearing acne medication masks.
The suit, filed by the boys’ parents, claims school administrators didn’t take time to investigate before forcing the boys out because they were worried about the backlash the school would get at a time when racial issues were making the news amid the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This case seeks justice 0n behalf of two high school students — boys whose reputations and young lives have been crippled by the malicious and egregious actions 0f their own high school and members of its community. In defendants’ hurried attempt to ensure their perception as social justice warriors in the face 0f an unfolding scandal, and without any efforts to ascertain the true state 0f affairs,” the suit states.
The suit says the photos had been taken three years earlier, before the boys entered St. Francis, when they were suffering from acne and used a treatment on their face.
The suit claims the school gave the boys a choice — either leave or be expelled.
“This was done in a transparent, virtue-signaling attempt t0 be perceived within the community as ‘fighting against racism,’ regardless 0f the true facts and context,” the lawsuit says.
In response, the school’s attorneys don’t agree that the masks were part of an acne treatment. Other students circulated one of the photos on Spotify and Instagram. On June 4, school officials learned about the photo and sent out an email condemning it. Within two days, the families of the students — faced with the ultimatum of leave or be expelled — removed the boys from St. Francis.
“The school sets forth its ‘Standard of Respect’ in the handbook. As a Catholic school, the school ‘should be a place where Jesus’ principle that we must love one another is followed by all, teachers and students alike,” the school’s attorneys say in a Dec. 9 brief. “… The handbook states, ‘Respect also means that we never say or do anything that offends, especially in regard to another’s race, religion, gender, sexuality, economic status, personal difficulties or disabilities or differences.'”
The school also contends that their agreement with the families of all students gives the administration the right to discipline and expel students at its sole discretion.
The plaintiffs are identified only as A.H., a minor, whose parents are Bruce H. and Tanya H., and H.H., a minor with parents Francis H. and Wendy C.
The plaintiffs are represented by Harmeet Dhillon of San Francisco, former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, who has represented clients claiming they were discriminated against because of their conservative viewpoints. She frequently appears as a guest on the Fox News Channel.
The defendants are St. Francis High School, which is regarded as a powerhouse in prep sports, school President Jason Curtis and Alicia Labana. Labana was accused of defamation for posting the alleged blackface photo on Facebook while organizing a march at the school. Judge Thang Barrett dismissed Labana from the suit, saying she had broad free-speech immunity. Barrett’s decision in Labana’s case is under appeal.
The school is represented by the San Francisco law firm of Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin, and the attorneys handling the case are Paul Gaspari, Daniel Zamora and Nicholas Ma.
On Jan. 13, Judge Barrett denied the school’s motion to dismiss the suit, saying the case could go forward because there was sufficient evidence that school’s actions had harmed the teens.
The lawsuit, filed in August in Santa Clara County Superior Court, is still in its early stages with the discovery phase, where both sides exchange information about their case. Depositions, where witnesses are questioned under oath, are scheduled to begin in August.