Teacher, district accounts differ on why Black hero posters were removed

By greatbritton

A Florida school teacher from Escambia County quit this week before the school year began after a staffer removed posters of historical Black leaders from his classroom walls. 

The teacher, Michael James, 61, cited racism as the reason why a teacher at O.J. Semmes Elementary School removed the posters because they were “age-inappropriate,” the Pensacola News Journal reports.

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The posters removed from the bulletin board that James created for his predominately Black students (kindergarten to fifth grade) included images of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, along with a brief description of their achievements.

James said it was “kind of unusual” when a behavior analyst and another behavior coach came to his classroom on Monday to help him set up.

“I was sitting down in one of the children’s chairs cutting something out, and I turned around and saw her start taking something off the bulletin board,” James recalled.

The behavior analyst also removed a picture of Barack Obama that was near James’ desk. 

“She picked it up and said, ‘You don’t need to put this up either,’” James said.

James said he initially “let it go,” but as he thought further about it, he “got pretty upset,” he said.

On Monday, the Alabama native emailed a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith informing them about the disturbing incident. 

“Am I to believe Escambia County Schools employs those that dislike African Americans and are against swearing allegiance to these United States of America? Is there a dislike in anything that states ‘One Nation Under God’ in it?” James wrote, in his letter, according to the report.

James officially resigned on Tuesday morning. The new school year started on Wednesday. 

Teachers are allowed to use educational materials to decorate their classrooms, such as the posters James had on display, according to the superintendent. Charlie Crist, a U.S. congressman from St. Petersburg who is running for governor on the Democratic ticket, blamed the politics of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for the removal of the posters. 

“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’ Florida—a teacher, in a predominantly Black community, comes into their classroom to see posters of historically Black American heroes, including President Obama, taken down for being ‘inappropriate’,” said Crist, as reported by the News Journal.

Escambia County Public Schools spokesperson Cody Strother said in a statement to the outlet that the incident is being investigated.

“If these allegations are deemed factual, we will certainly take corrective action, as it is our aim that all of our teachers feel valued and supported,” said Strother.

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