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NHS students apologize for assembly skit


Administrators determine there was no racist intent in gift-giving incident in which Santa Claus presented fried chicken to an African-American student

After debriefing members of the Associated Student Body (ASB), Newberg High School officials have determined there was no racist intent behind an incident that took place during an all-school assembly on Dec. 6.

The school’s student leadership group performed a skit in which Santa Claus gave presents to various students, including fried chicken to an African-American student.

“I have checked in multiple times with the student and he was deeply embarrassed and he was humiliated to be in front of the audience of the student body because he really didn’t expect it,” Green School principal Karen Pugsley said. “This young man is very mature, very sensitive. It took him a day or so to just process it and I worked with him as well and with his family.”

Pugsley was not present for the assembly, as she, Yellow School principal Stafford Boyd and superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza were attending a school law conference in Eugene, but as the principal that oversees ASB, took the lead on addressing the situation when she returned the following week.

She said students have run a Santa Claus gift-giving program, in which student submit their names and a desired gift that would potentially be presented during an assembly, for about five years. Submissions are given anonymously, so there is no way to tell if the requests are valid and Pugsley said that the ASB students simply didn’t recognize the potential racist nature of the particular request.

“They didn’t put race together with anything and so they didn’t do it to make fun of anybody,” Pugsley said. “They didn’t even do it in the context of race. When I debriefed with them — and I did it (Dec. 8) because I wanted to make sure I was very quick in my response — I was struck by them not understanding what the connotation was. They just didn’t understand it.”

Pugsley said that the student in question realized rather quickly that the incident was a mistake and didn’t want to have a personal apology.

Pugsley said she used the incident as a learning opportunity, speaking with the ASB students about racial stereotypes and working with them to draft a school-wide apology that was delivered in person by ASB members during advisory period.

“Personally, I believe the students handled it very well and so did the advisor,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “It was incredibly unfortunate that it happened the way that it did. But again, they handled it as a very strong learning situation and I think that overall I don’t think anything good could have come out of that than them apologizing and stepping up and realizing that what they did was very hurtful.”