Officials in an upstate New York school district have issued a public apology following a social media post of a muddy snowman and three students that many online users are describing as culturally insensitive.
The post referred to the grit-and-snow-mixed creation as “diverse as our students,” a statement that was interpreted by many to equate skin color with dirt.
Many took to social media to express offense to what the district claims was a way to celebrate students using creative expression, as with the snowman design.
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, a representative for the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District posted a photograph featuring the students standing next to the snow creature on its Facebook page with the caption, “Today’s CE Fourth Grade Playground Fun! This snowman is just as diverse as our students.”
The post has been removed from the page, with the district saying the use of the word “diverse” was in no way a reference to the snowman’s appearance of dirt mixed in with the white snow.
A statement from superintendent Randy Squier appeared the same day on the district’s website.
“The post was a picture of three kids standing next to the snowman they had created during recess,” the statement read, adding that the use of the word “diverse” was supposed to highlight “how every kid can make a snowman differently and this variety of creativity should be celebrated. When it was commented that this could be interpreted about race the post was taken down.”
Squier, who is white, wrote, “We want to apologize and reiterate it was never intended to be hurtful.”
The educator shared that the “families of the students in the picture have already been contacted personally,” and promised to have the district’s social media policies and procedures reviewed as an effort to ensure all in the community feel as though they belong.
Social media comments on the post include ones such as that of Kyle Davy, who wrote on Facebook, “Good, hold that school accountable for once. Hope everyone sees it too.”
While the post was deleted, the screenshot continues to be shared on the internet, garnering comments about what many considered a bigoted and racist microaggression.
One person wrote in a comment on the district’s Facebook page, “This is where language and white privilege collide… smh, I’m sure it was said with innocent intentions from someone who lacks education on diversity, lacks socially acceptable humor, and clearly needs a reality check.”
Andrew W. Johnson wrote, “Your superintendent is such a liar. The ‘diversity’ comment excuse is nothing but an attempt to cover for a racist comment, a comment probably not meant to be racist, but racist it was!!! That makes Mr. Squier’s statement all the more disgusting.”
Another person called Squier’s comments “weak sauce,” adding “What you read … pretty much says ‘I’m a gaslighter, the people of Coxsackie are a bunch of dumb hillbillies, and we are so much smarter than them that we can lie through our teeth and we hope they believe us.'”
“Somebody needs to be fired!” wrote Neesha Neesh.
However, some commenters believed people were overreacting.
“The kids never thought anything about that snowman being black and white. The grown-ups are the problem,” wrote one user. “They’re the ones that need to learn from this…Not the children!”
“How about using this as a learning opportunity? You know, like a SCHOOL should,” another commenter wrote.
Coxsackie-Athens Central School District is a small department comprised of four schools in Greene County, about 20 miles south of Albany, according to Syracuse.com.
A look at the district’s makeup shows a small community with the demographic of its public schools being majority white. The New York State Education Department shows 1,188 students are enrolled in the district’s K-12 public schools. The average language arts or math class for the fourth grade has about 13 students in each.
The district is 84 percent white, 2.3 percent Black, 7.6 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 4.8 percent of students are two or more races, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Coxsackie as a town is a little more diverse, according to the 2020 Census. Seventy-five percent of the population is white, while Blacks make up 19.5 percent of the reported 8,384 people living there.