SURRY COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Surry County Schools and East Surry High School are issuing apologies after the school posted a photo of what the district described as a “stereotypical portrayal of Mexican American gang members” in a student skit.

On Thursday, East Surry High School said that students performed skit during a Spanish II class meant to portray a scene from “Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha,” an anonymously-written novel about the MS-13 gang.

The school district posted on Facebook a photo of the students dressed in stereotypical outfits, including fake tattoos, holding the Mexican flag. The caption read, “Students in Mrs. Marion’s Spanish 2 read a book in Spanish then wrote and performed skits. This skit was about an interview with a gang member, so much fun!!” The post has since been deleted.

East Surry High School issued the following statement both in English and in Spanish:

East Surry High School has been made aware of a post that was made on social media that depicted a Spanish II class acting out a scene from “Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha.” The lesson was designed for the students to experience the language, culture, and the feeling that the author was trying to convey through his autobiography. The intent of the lesson was to help students relate to the author’s experience as a native El Salvadorian. This is a gripping story of one man’s transition from El Salvador, his experience in California with a Mexican-American gang, and his quest for freedom. The school understands that these images, regardless of lesson content, may be perceived as harmful to members of the LatinX community. Our goal as a school is to create an intentionally welcoming learning environment, celebrating our community and its diversity. We will use this as a teachable moment for everyone, students and staff.

Surry County Schools shared East Surry High School’s post and added the following statement:

The district sincerely apologizes to members of our Latinx community for the stereotypical portrayal of Mexican American gang members during a skit performed in a Spanish II class at East Surry High School. This incident underscores the importance of fostering an inclusive learning environment that promotes cultural sensitivity and respect for our diverse student population. Even unintentional depictions of racial stereotypes have no place in our schools. We will use this as a teachable moment to achieve that goal. We regret that this incident may have been hurtful and concerning to our students, parents, and community members.

The school’s post was met with swift backlash as commenters said the post does not include an apology.

Giselle Chavez, a graduate of East Surry High School, said she initially did not want to respond because she cares about the school and the school community and did not know how to respond.

In a post she wrote on Facebook, she said, “This cannot be justified. What they [the school] do next matters.”

Chavez touched on several points that illustrate her concerns with the assignment, the school’s post and the school’s statement. She said the school could have presented Hispanic history “in the same positive light” that much of American history is taught, possibly through food or dance. She noted that the picture shows a Mexican flag, while the MS-13 gang got its start in El Salvador. She also drew attention to the phrasing of the school’s statement, specifically to the line, “The school understands that these images, regardless of lesson content, may be perceived as harmful to members of the LatinX community.”

“This has nothing to do with ‘how it was perceived,'” she said.

The full text of Chavez’s post is published with her permission. It can be found below.

The topic of racism has been thrown around a lot the last several years, so much so that you may be desensitized to it, it is just part of life and no big deal, you may have said something along the lines of “everything is offensive these days,” I know you are tired of it. Imagine how tired we are. Those who do not see the issue here are simply choosing not to. Those who do not think racism exists in Surry County are not affected by it and they do not care.

I did not want to make a public post about this because I am a member of the community. I graduated from East Surry. I share their posts, attend sporting events, and support their fundraisers. I love many of the teachers still at East Surry. On top of that, I didn’t know where to start.

This just shows the lack of education in our school and community. It doesn’t take much intelligence or social awareness to at least question if this was a good idea or not.. There was plenty wrong with the initial post made by East Surry High School and plenty wrong with their statement. I could go on about how we, as students, learn about the heroes of American history all throughout school and how we deserved to learn about Hispanic history in that same positive light for at least two semesters, about how if they wanted to do something more interactive they could’ve cooked Hispanic food or respectfully practiced a Hispanic dance, how not only did a teacher assign this but it was approved and an admin shared it proudly, how it took a 2 minute google search to learn that MS-13 is a Salvadoran gang and how that is just an icing on the cake when it comes to the disrespect of displaying the Mexican flag in this context, how the assignment very clearly perpetuates negative stereotypes of Mexicans… This has nothing to do with “how it was perceived.”

East Surry is in a tough spot, yes they absolutely put themselves there, but I recognize that it’s going to be hard for us to accept their apology – but at the very least they need to start with that. The book does not promote or glorify gang life so why did the assignment make a joke about it? An explanation without an apology is just an attempt to justify.. This cannot be justified. What they do next matters.

It comes down to ignorance. All racism does.. I do not believe that the teacher of this classroom or the person that posted had bad intentions. However, ignorance is dangerous. This is willful ignorance which makes it that much more offensive. You cannot be an educator and not understand why this is wrong. The students in these pictures are not to blame.. But truly, how can we expect better from the next generation?