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Brooke Principal Apologizes for Ethnic Attire Guide

WELLSBURG — Multicultural Week at Brooke High School took an unexpected turn Wednesday when an unknown number of students complained about how the school was stereotyping certain ethnic groups.

Last week, the high school released a list of suggested attire students might wear to represent five nationalities throughout the week’s celebration. It was some of those suggestions that brought complaints to the ears of Brooke High Principal Timothy Pannett.

Among the items some found to be offensive were the suggestions that on Italian Day, which was held Wednesday, students wear “all black, a fedora hat and a big gold chain.” Today was declared Spanish Day and it was suggested students wear “a poncho, a traditional dress, cowboy boots or anything you can think of that represents a Spanish-speaking country.”

Other theme attire included suggestions for dressing like a superhero for Greek Day, wearing silk Chinese clothing and “putting chopsticks in your hair” for Chinese Day, and for Hawaiian Day on Friday, the suggested attire was a Hawaiian shirt, a straw hat, “or dress like a tourist.”

A school employee said the list of suggested attire came from Pannett.

The complaints prompted Pannett to post the following apology on Brooke County Schools’ Facebook page on Wednesday:

“It has been expressed that some of the ideas that were suggested for dressing up during our cultural awareness week of activities, were offensive stereotypes. While that was never the intention, we sincerely apologize to anyone that has been offended. The sincere purpose of this week’s activity is raise cultural awareness; dressing up was added only to include a fun activity to those wishing to participate. We have been fortunate to have wonderful guests who have shared experience and flavor with our students. …

“Again we are sorry for offending, and our hope is that our future events will inspire our students to be sensitive to all cultural differences.”

Numerous students and parents responded to the Facebook apology, most saying it was not necessary, and that others simply overreacted.

One student posted, “The wording of it was very offensive, was distasteful for people of those cultures.”

A parent wrote, “Quit apologizing that’s why the kids are like they are they run to mommy n daddy!!! … Because every time you do apologize for offending them you set them up for failure! Teach with authority, discipline and respect and don’t settle for … less then their full attention and respect.”

An attempt to reach Pannett for a comment this morning was unsuccessful as he was out of the office for the day, according to a worker in the school office.

Wednesday’s message from Pannett was the second time this school year that Brooke County school administrators have issued an apology over an “insensitive” action. A sign displayed in the student section during a Brooke High School home football game on Sept. 22 that read “Trump Perry” caused an uproar when displayed. Brooke’s opponent that night was the predominately black Perry Traditional Academy from Pittsburgh.

Some interpreted the sign as racially insensitive taunting of students from Perry, while others said it was merely an innocent play on words that was created as part of a patriotic theme for the game. The sign bore an image of the U.S. flag with the words “Trump Perry,” with yellow wavy lines above them some believe were intended to represent President Donald Trump’s hair.

That led to Brooke County Schools Superintendent Toni Paesano Shute sending a letter to Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, apologizing for what she termed an “insensitive, intimidating and offensive sign posted … at Friday night’s game.”

In her message, Shute wrote, “We have a moral obligation to teach our children, and we will make this a teachable moment to instill the core values of respect and dignity for all.”

Today, Shute referred calls for comment to Pannett.

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