A Florida teacher says he has quit after learning a school district employee “removed” pictures of historic Black figures from his classroom walls, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
Michael James, a special education teacher for 15 years, told Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith that the school employee took down what she called “age-inappropriate” photos.
“I hate to say this about everybody in the staff or the leadership there, but something is not right,” James said. “Something needs to be changed or fixed.”
O.J. Semmes Elementary, where James was set to teach in his first year at a Florida school, has a predominantly Black student population and is located among predominantly Black neighborhoods, the newspaper reported.
James said he’d hoped the bulletin board ― featuring figures such as Harriett Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. ― would let his students “look up to and see themselves” in people that look like them.
The district employee, a behavior analyst, who was joined by a behavior coach, was in James’ classroom to help him prepare for the year ahead.
James told the newspaper the removal “floored” him and said the district employee also took away a photo of former President Barack Obama near his desk that he meant to place on the board.
“She picked it up and said, ‘You don’t need to put this up either,’” James said.
“She said — I can’t remember exactly what she said — but she said, ‘The kids are too young,’ or something like that. It floored me. I thought, ‘This is the first Black president.’”
James said he wondered why the employee wanted to take down his bulletin board display “without asking,” something he said he’d never seen in his 15 years of teaching.
James’ resignation comes during a national teacher shortage that’s also affecting Escambia County.
The school district released a statement on Thursday, saying it wanted to “clear up some inaccuracies” about James’ claims.
The district said that the employee told James the board would have to be for “state-required curricular materials” he could use to teach students with autism spectrum disorder.
“To be clear, due to the nature of this specific population of students, it is critical the instructional materials be within their line of sight during instruction, for the purposes of student focus and retention,” the district wrote.
“The Behavior Analyst observed his bulletin board was ‘Awesome,’ because of the history tied to it, but the language and reading levels on the posters were too complex for this particular group of students.”
The district also said James told the employee to “do whatever needs to be done” to ensure the bulletin board had the required materials on it.
“Had Mr. James objected at that time, or had he raised his concerns with school administration, we believe this situation could have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” the district wrote.
“The instructional materials could have been displayed appropriately, and Mr. James’s display could simultaneously have been honored. We were surprised these basic communicative steps were not taken by such a veteran teacher.”
James said he needed to go beyond the school principal to address his concerns and had reached out to DeSantis and Smith to ensure people wouldn’t “sweep things under the rug.”
He also responded that the behavior analyst didn’t discuss state-required materials with him.
“Yes, some in my class could read the statements under the pictures and at the very least be taught to read it,” James said, according to the News Journal.
“That is what teachers do.”