WPIAL bans Peters Township band after investigating ‘blackface’ allegations

Tuesday, November 17, 2020 | 3:00 AM

The Peters Township marching band is prohibited from performing at any WPIAL event until the school district submits a plan to “eradicate the social and racial insensitivity displayed by the marching band and its director/supervisors,” the WPIAL announced Tuesday.

The ban lasts at least six months.

The discipline was the result of an Oct. 30 incident at Peters Township where two drum majors wore full-body black spandex suits before a football playoff game against Woodland Hills.

Woodland Hills administrators raised concerns about the suits being racially insensitive and resembling “blackface.”

“Even though the costumes may not have been intended to harm anyone, students, coaches and spectators from Woodland Hills were negatively impacted — regardless of the intent,” WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said.

The WPIAL Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council reviewed documents submitted by each school district, “had lengthy discussions on appropriate actions” and made recommendations to the WPIAL board, Scheuneman said. The board unanimously approved those recommendations Monday but waited to reveal them publicly until after speaking with school administrators.

“The Peters Township marching band is prohibited from attending or performing at any WPIAL athletic events until the educational training is completed,” the WPIAL wrote in its statement announcing the discipline. “The suspension shall be no less than 6 months from the date of this letter to allow for proper planning and training to occur.”

The WPIAL discipline precludes a pep band at basketball games.

In addition to the ban, the WPIAL requested that Peters Township impose “appropriate discipline or other rectifying actions” against its band director “to ensure similar incidents do not occur in the future.”

Peters Township superintendent Jeannine French could not immediately be reached for comment.

A district spokesperson said Peters Township’s investigation found the students “acted without racist or harmful intent.”

“Nonetheless, their choice of costumes, in the context of the game, was insensitive,” spokesperson Shelly Belcher said in an email. “The investigation also revealed that there were multiple missed opportunities for adults present at the game to address the costumes prior to the students entering the field.”

Belcher said the district sees the incident as an opportunity for positive change.

The WPIAL placed Peters Township on probation for one year and the school’s administration was publicly censured for “lack of institutional control for knowing and/or supporting unsportsmanlike conduct.” Scheuneman said the school district already has issued an apology to Woodland Hills.

“They are committed to educating the members of their band as well as potentially a greater population (of students in the school),” she said.

The WPIAL encouraged Peters Township administrators to meet with members of the WPIAL Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

“WPIAL believes something positive can come out of every situation. Thus, it is the sincere hope of WPIAL’s Board of Directors that this unfortunate event can spark real change in the Peters Township School District,” the WPIAL wrote. “Our office as well as the members of the WPIAL Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council are poised to help in any way possible.”

The actions of band members don’t typically fall under the jurisdiction of the WPIAL, but Scheuneman noted that in this instance “it’s part of our event” since it occurred before a WPIAL playoff game.

Peters Township athletic director Brian Geyer and Woodland Hills athletic director Ron Coursey are both members of the WPIAL board. They abstained from Monday’s vote.

The WPIAL Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council is a new panel that the board formed soon after Scheuneman became executive director in July. She proposed the 10-person council as a way to increase minority representation in the WPIAL.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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