SHERWOOD PARK, Alta. – An Alberta school division has apologized after a staff member at a Christian school wore blackface while dressed up as a member of the British band Spice Girls.
Elk Island Public Schools said in a statement Monday that it is taking immediate action with the employee to address her conduct.
“We do not condone behaviour that would be offensive or hurtful to any student, employee or member of our school community,” said the division. It added that an apology was also going home to parents.
“In the days ahead, EIPS will seek out resources in order to further educate employees, both at this school and throughout the division, about the need to be respectful of all races and cultures. “It is our intention to ensure that an incident of this kind is not repeated.”
Edmonton activist Bashir Mohamed said a friend who is a teacher sent him a link to the photo from a Facebook group. He then put the picture out on Twitter with several comments and asked how a black student at the school might feel about it.
The photo shows a woman wearing dark face makeup while dressed up as Mel B, otherwise known as “Scary Spice” with the 1990s all-girl band.
She is standing with other adults posing as celebrity judges in a talent event at Strathcona Christian Academy in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton.
“Look who’s here for SCA’s Got Talent! Meet the judges: Simon Cowell, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel!! All the best to our competitors!” said a caption of the photo from SCA Elementary.
Mohamed said he didn’t put out the photo to get the employee fired. He wanted it to act as a teaching moment.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for there to be education where they can understand why this is an issue and learn from it,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, this person is an educator and they are responsible for students.”
He added that most people are likely to understand that blackface is wrong, but they don’t understand why, or realize that it has roots in Canadian history as well as in the United States.
Education Minister David Eggen said even though the matter is being dealt with, he finds it disturbing.
“It’s inappropriate behaviour that doesn’t belong in schools,” Eggen said. “It sets a bad example.”
Marisa Peters, an Edmonton blogger who uses the Twitter handle Stream and Stone, said she is a former student of Strathcona Christian Academy’s secondary school.
“In musical theater we were asked to fake tan and wore dark makeup to dress as Puerto Ricans for ‘West Side Story,”’ said her tweet. “Blackface has a history at this school.”
Laura McNabb, a spokeswoman for the school division, said officials would not be commenting further.