A Northern California private school apologized for a lunch menu that offered fried chicken, corn bread and watermelon to celebrate Black History Month.
School administrators for Carondelet High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Concord, Calif., said they did not approve the menu, and it remains unclear who came up with the idea.
In an interview with USA TODAY Network, Carondelet communications director Christina Ditzel also said that the Black Student Union was not to blame. In an earlier report from KTVU, Interim President Sister Ann Bernard said students with the group had planned the menu.
A spokesman for De La Salle High school, an all-boys school affiliated with Carondelet that runs the Black Student Union, reiterated that the group was not responsible.
"I know for a fact they have nothing to do with the menu at Carondelet," said J.A. Gray, director of communications for De La Salle, in an interview with USA TODAY Network.
According to Ditzel, a student announced the lunch menu over the school's public address system on Monday.
"It was a shock to the administrators, the students and the teachers, and they were angry about it," Ditzel said.
Ditzel said she did not hear the announcement and that it had not been approved by the administration, per school policy.
In response to the incident, Ditzel said school officials discussed the menu in an assembly Wednesday and sent letters apologizing to parents.
In a Feb. 6 letter that was sent to parents, Principal Nancy Libby apologized for "any hurt this caused students, parents or community members."
"Please know that at no time at Carondelet do we wish to perpetuate racial stereotypes," Libby wrote.
In another letter, Libby said a diversity assembly is planned for later this month.
African Americans constitute 2% of Carondelet's student population, according to Ditzel.
A letter from De La Salle guidance counselors addressed to faculty explained that fried chicken and watermelon "were some of the stereotypical images commonly used to depict life on the plantation, particularly among African slaves."
"It is important to keep in mind that the images of fried chicken and watermelon have been used intentionally for over 100 years to dehumanize black people," according to the letter.
"Those foods become, fairly or unfairly, a badge of inferiority," Greg Carr, chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, told USA TODAY Network.
"If anything, what I hope could come out of this is to have a conversation about stereotypes and where those three items came from," Carr said.