The Facebook post seemed innocuous enough. The parent-teacher association for Public School 118, The Maurice Sendak Community School, in Brooklyn, N.Y., had settled on a theme for its fundraiser: “Speakeasy.” The announcement, posted in January, came with an image broadcasting the date of the event and some 1920s Prohibition-era photos for the themed event.
The problem: At least one of the photos included blackface.
As a result, the PTA president is under fire and a letter has been sent to the city’s Education Department to investigate the incident, alongside allegations that the New York City school has deeper racial problems that it needs to address.
The New York Daily News reports that it was sent a copy of a letter written by a “concerned community member” to the Education Department. In that letter, the writer sent a copy of the Facebook announcement with “horrid pictures of black face,” which was put together by the “all-white PTA executive board.”
According to the Daily News, the post was deleted on Jan. 21 after news of the offensive images got out to the community. Nadine Baldasare, the PTA’s co-president, took responsibility for the pictures:
“There are no acceptable excuses for how this happened (it was late, I was tired, I was rushing, etc.) because no excuse can change what I know to be true. My privilege as a white person requires that I be conscientious, engaged and informed when representing our community and promoting events,” Baldasare, 45, wrote.
“I failed to be fully engaged here, and as a result, I added to a hostile media landscape that continues to deepen wounds carved by persistent racism in our society. I am deeply sorry.”
In a follow-up interview with the Daily News, Baldasare said that her resignation was under consideration.
“There’s no disagreement here that I made an error and we as a community have to come together,” Baldasare told the paper. “It’s not an option to not look at it and not address it.”
But the letter notes that the PTA announcement isn’t an isolated incident at P.S. 118. The writer alleges that the elementary school, established in 2013, has a “persistent and invasive culture of racism.”
“There have been a multitude of complaints regarding students of color being teased, insulted and bullied by fellow white students with no real action taken by the school,” the letter alleges. It also compared the way educators treat bullying against transgender students versus “black/brown children,” stating that the difference in responses was “disturbingly large.”
According to the Daily News, P.S. 118 is a majority-white school. Of its 305 students, 60 percent identify as white—compared with the citywide average of 15 percent.
Elizabeth Garraway, P.S. 118’s principal, didn’t provide any comment on the PTA controversy or the allegations, according to the Daily News. An Education Department spokesman told the paper that the reports of racism are being investigated and that officials are working with the community to create a schoolwide diversity board to help address the issues.