DAVENPORT, IA — An Iowa school district that is already under state supervision because minority students are disproportionately placed in special education classes and subjected to disciplinary action says it is investigating after photos of a first-grade teacher in blackface circulated on social media. The Davenport Community Schools elementary teacher, Megan Luloff, 32, dressed as LaFawnduh, a character in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” at an off-campus Halloween party.
The incident comes after NBC and Megan Kelly, who this week said it isn’t racist for white people to color their faces black as long as they’re portraying a character, would not return to her program. “When I was a kid, that was OK, so long as you were dressing up as a character,” Kelly, who was born in 1970, said to an all-white panel her “Megyn Kelly Today” program. “I can’t keep up with the number of people we’re offending just by being normal people.”
The panel was discussing a ban on certain Halloween costumes, including those portraying Native Americans and Mexicans, by a college in England. NBC halted live broadcasts of her program through Friday, and is reportedly considering whether to cut ties with the former Fox News anchor. Kelly apologized to her viewers Wednesday. “I was wrong and I am sorry,” she said. “The country feels so divided and I have no wish to add to that pain and offense.”
Luloff, who teaches at Davenport school district’s Walcott Elementary School in Walcott, Iowa, did not immediately return an email from Patch requesting comment. She had declined requests for comment from other media outlets.
She wore the costume to the Walcott American Legion post’s “Boo Bash” Halloween party on Oct. 19.
School officials said statements the costume was racially insensitive. In an email to the Quad-City Times newspaper in Davenport, Superintendent Art Tate said “the wearing of blackface is never appropriate in any circumstance by any person.”
Davenport schools spokeswoman Dawn Saul declined comment on the situation, but referred Patch to a statement, which read in part:
“The district was very recently made aware of these images of a district employee at a non-school related event, and an internal investigation is currently ongoing.The board does not condone the insensitivity these images depict and is very disappointed something like this is now connected to our school community.”
It’s unclear if Luloff is still employed by the school district, but her photo has been removed from the Walcott elementary and middle school website.
Betty Andrews, the president of the Iowa-Nebraska chapter of the NAACP, thinks Luloff should be fired. She did not immediately return Patch’s call for comment, but told the New York Post she wouldn’t want Luoff “teaching my children.”
“This makes me wonder what’s in the water, so to speak,” Andrews told the newspaper after the civil rights group received a photo of the teacher in blackface. “What are we teaching in Davenport for this woman to think that this would be OK?”
To the Quad-City Times, she said: “The revelation that the woman in blackface is a teacher who is expected to provide a safe and equitable classroom environment for all children is very disconcerting. Equally as upsetting is that the people around her also seem to be celebrating her appearance.
“This is not the Iowa that should be a field of dreams for all of us,” she said, referring to the “Field of Dreams” movie that was filmed in the state.
Luloff was with a group of others who dressed as “Napoleon Dynamite” characters. Andrews said she’s surprised another member of the group didn’t point out her “serious lapse in judgment.”
“With every stroke of her make-up puff she had the opportunity to rethink her decision to show up like this, to measure it in the context of history,” Andrew said. “She didn’t.”
Andrews told the Davenport newspaper that for many African-Americans, “depictions like this deliver messages of fear and trauma, evoking images from another movie — the racially propagandized 1915 movie ‘Birth of a Nation,’ in which black people are criminalized, humiliated and lynched.”
Iowa’s Department of Education placed the district under state supervision earlier this year because of its treatment of minority students. An editorial in the Quad-City Times said: “They’re disproportionately rammed into special education programs. They’re significantly more likely to be placed in restraints. They’re booted from the classroom at rates far above their white counterparts.”
Tate, the superintendent, said Friday he would leave his post on Oct. 31 because he has become a liability, including that he “did not prioritize the need to address differences in the way students are excluded from classrooms in school.”
Sandy Schmitz, the state education department implementation adviser assigned to the Davenport schools, told the Davenport newspaper data points to disproportionate treatment of minority students.
Davenport school board vice president Linda Hayes, who is the district liaison on the matter, told the newspaper the teacher made a poor choice with her Halloween costume.
“I cannot clearly articulate how offensive and appalling it is to people of color,” she said. “In light of our recent developments within the district, this was in very poor taste, not to mention totally out of line with regard to professionalism.
“We are working very hard with professionals from across the country and within the state to assist with the problem of disproportionality, and one of our own is fueling the fire with blatant racism,” Hayes said. “All I can say is it’s very sad, and totally unacceptable.”
Iowa is one of the least diverse states in the country, with more than 90 percent of the state’s residents identifying themselves as white in 2017 Census estimates. Black or African-American residents comprise only about 3.8 percent of the state’s population.
Photo: Actress Shondrella Avery, left, and actor Efren Ramirez at a Napoleon Dynamite statue dedication in 2014. A white Iowa school teacher who dressed as Avery’s character in the “Napoleon Dynamite” movie, LaFawnduh, is under fire for wearing blackface. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP/Shutterstock)