My middle-schooler was banned from sports after decorating his face for a football game – it was just war paint

A MIDDLE-schooler has been suspended from school after allegedly wearing blackface for a football game but his parents say it was just war paint.

A photo was taken of J.A., an eighth grader whose full name has been withheld for privacy reasons, attending a football game between La Jolla High School and Morse High School in California on October 13.

A middle schooler was suspended from school and banned from athletic events for wearing black face paint to a football game


A middle schooler was suspended from school and banned from athletic events for wearing black face paint to a football gameCredit: Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
An organization for individual rights and expression stated that the suspension violated the boy's First Amendment rights


An organization for individual rights and expression stated that the suspension violated the boy’s First Amendment rightsCredit: Getty

The boy had dark face paint on his cheeks and chin, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

“Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression,” the child’s father told Cal News Coast, claiming that a security guard, who was Black, encouraged his son to put on more paint.

However, a week after the game, the boy and his parents were called into a meeting by Jeff Luna, the principal of Muirland Middle School.

The family was told that their son would receive a two-day suspension and was banned from attending future athletic events.


A disciplinary notice read that J.A. “painted his face black at a football game,” calling the incident an “offensive comment, intent to harm.”

Principal Luna also reportedly called the face paint offensive because Morse High School has a “largely Black” student population.

FIRE sent a letter to the principal, claiming that the boy’s First Amendment right was being violated and called for a reversal of the decision.

“As the First Amendment protects J.A.’s non-disruptive expression of team spirit via a style commonly used by athletes and fans – notwithstanding your inaccurate description of it as ‘blackface’ – FIRE calls on the school to remove the infraction from J.A.’s disciplinary record and lift the ban on his attendance at future athletic events,” read the letter.

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Aaron Terr, the organization’s director of public advocacy argued that the boy’s “appearance emulated the style of eye black worn by many athletes,” adding that “such use of eye black began as a way to reduce glare during games, but long ago evolved into ‘miniature billboards for personal messages and war-paint slatherings.’”

Terr explained that this was different from blackface, which he described as “‘dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.’

“It has its origins in racist minstrel shows that featured white actors caricaturing Black people, and generally entails covering the entire face in dark makeup and exaggerating certain facial features.”

However, J.A. instead followed a popular warpaint-inspired trend of athletes using large amounts of eye black under their eyes, said Terr.

“Which was no racial connotations whatsoever.”

J.A. wore the face paint “throughout the game without incident,” said Terr, who mentioned a landmark Supreme Court case that upheld the First Amendment rights of students.

“In the seminal student speech case Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court held the First Amendment protected public school students’ right to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War,” he said.

“The Court made clear school officials cannot restrict student speech based on speculative ‘undifferentiated fear’ that it will cause disruption or feelings or unpleasantness or discomfort among the student body. Rather Tinker requires evidence that the speech has or will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.

“There is no evidence J.A.’s face paint caused a disruption – let alone a material and substantial one – at the football game or at school afterward,” he said.

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Terr asked for a response from the school by November 22 but soon filed another letter to the San Diego Unified School District on Monday after the district denied his request to overturn J.A.’s suspension.

The U.S. Sun has reached out to the San Diego Unified School District and Principal Jeff Luna for comment.

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