The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

School district apologizes for calling muddy snowman ‘diverse’

The caption accompanying the photo: ‘This snowman is just as diverse as our students!’

Coxsackie-Athens Central School District in Coxsackie, N.Y. (Courtesy Google Maps)
4 min

J.D. Fielding wasn’t bothered by the picture that his son’s school district posted to Facebook this week. It was sweet, he said — three boys smiling next to the dirt-encrusted snowman they’d made during recess at their elementary school in New York.

Then he saw the caption: “This snowman is just as diverse as our students!”

Fielding’s perspective shifted: Now the 48-year-old was looking at a dirty, brown snowman on the eve of Black History Month.

“I was a little shocked by what I saw,” he told The Washington Post.

Fielding, whose 11-year-old son attends fifth grade in Coxsackie-Athens Central School District in Coxsackie, N.Y., was upset and thought the post was racially insensitive. He was not alone. Several other parents criticized the post, which led the school district to take it down and apologize. Superintendent Randall Squier said the employee who wrote it didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Still, Squier promised a review of how district employees use social media.

“The word ‘diverse’ was used to describe how every kid can make a snowman differently and this variety of creativity should be celebrated. When it was commented that this post could be interpreted about race the post was taken down. We want to apologize and reiterate it was never intended to be hurtful,” Squier wrote Tuesday in a statement posted to the district’s website.

On Thursday, Squier told The Post that the employee who posted the photo and caption never meant for it to be about race and is “horrified” by the fallout. He declined to say whether the employee had been disciplined but said he was “giving that person grace.”

Fielding, who for three years has driven school buses for a company that contracts with the district, said he noticed the Facebook post a few minutes after it went up. Although the photo was benign, he was immediately floored by what he described as the racial insensitivity of the caption. Unsure of his reaction, he sent it to a few friends and fellow parents to get their opinions. Word came back quickly: They were equally if not more enraged, he said.

“A lot of people that saw it were like, ‘This is unbelievable,’” said Fielding, whose son is not in the photo.

The district took down the post nine minutes after publishing it, he added, but Pandora’s box had been opened. Screenshots of it swirled online, some ending up in comments on the district’s Facebook page. Local media coverage followed a few hours later.

“And so the outrage and the questions really came super fast,” he said.

Fielding said that, although he believes the employee who published the post meant no harm, it was “racially insensitive.” He plans to attend the school board’s meeting scheduled for next week and said he may bring it up there. If so, he suspects he won’t be alone, adding that it’s probably good that parents will have more than a week to cool off because a lot of them are really upset.

The “district has to be more responsible, and stop placing blame outside of themselves,” Fielding said, adding officials should “not blame the irresponsible post on a misinterpretation.”

Fielding said that, while he’s White, he has an adult son who is part Native American who suffered racism while he was going through school. Fielding said he endured a few indirect hits along the way.

“When you’re the parent of a biracial child … there’s some stigmas that go along with that,” he said. “Sometimes you’re not good enough, or you’re not enough or you’re too much of. And so there’s a stigma there.”

Those memories popped into his head on Tuesday, and he felt the stigma’s old familiar sting, he said.

“When I saw this image and being referred to as a dirty snowman, that was the way that I took it.”