Florida teacher quit after district took down posters of black figures

  • A special education teacher in Florida resigned after a district employee took down photos of black historical figures.
  • The teacher told a local news agency that the staff member took down the photos, citing them as age-inappropriate.
  • The school responded to the incident by saying there were inaccuracies in his recollection of the incident.

A special education teacher in Pensacola, Fla., resigned after they say a school district employee removed pictures of historic black Americans from his classroom walls.

Micheal James, 61, resigned from OJ Semmes Elementary School on Tuesday, a day after a board-certified behavior analyst from the Escambia School District removed pictures of historic black figures from a classroom bulletin board, citing age-inappropriateness, according to the Pensacola New Journal.

“It really made me sick,” James told the local news agency. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it really made me feel bad when she did that.”

James taught special education to students in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the report. Along with the Pledge of Allegiance, he displayed historical black figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Colin Powell, and George Washington Carver in the classroom because he wanted to motivate his students with figures that represented the students.

“I sat down in one of the high chairs and was cutting something out and I turned around and saw her start taking something off the bulletin board,” James told the paper.

James said when he asked the analyst why she took down the photos, “she said something like it wasn’t age appropriate. Something like that.”

James did not recall the employee mentioning race; However, he told the outlet that she confiscated a photo of former President Barack Obama, which was near his desk when there was no room on the bulletin board that said the children were too young.

“I didn’t say anything else. I let it be honest, but started thinking about it and got pretty upset,” James told PNJ. “I could have just sent it to the principal. But things have to be done. A lot of times people can just sweep things under the rug.”

The next night after the incident, James sent an email to Gov. Ron Desantis and Tim Smith, the superintendent of the Escambia County school district, recalling what he had witnessed, according to the PNJ.

In a statement released Thursday by Escambia County Public School obtained by the Pensacola News Journal, the school district refuted the claims made by James, stating there were inaccuracies in his account.

The district claimed in the statement that two district employees, a behavior coach and a behavior analyst, were in the classroom that day to help him set up the classroom to teach a small unit of students with ASD (autism spectrum disorder).

According to the statement, the behavior analyst told James that she did appreciate the bulletin board depicting historical black figures, but it had to be dedicated to state-mandated curriculum materials specific to his student.

“The behavior analyst observed that his bulletin board was ‘Awesome,’ because of the story associated with it, but the language and reading levels of the posters were too complex for this particular group of students,” according to the statement obtained by PNJ.

The statement added that when asked if James cared if the images shown were removed, he said they would “do whatever needed to be done.”

“The instructional materials could have been properly displayed and Mr. James’ display could have been honored at the same time. We were surprised that these basic communicative steps were not taken by such a veteran teacher,” the district said in the statement.

James responded to the statement Thursday, writing to the PNJ that the behavior analyst never mentioned state standards while taking down the photos.

“The bulletin board I prepared was completely in line with state standards for this population, and to say otherwise is pure diversion,” James told the newspaper.

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