An investigation is in progress after an Escambia County, Florida, special education teacher resigned just one day before the school year began. Identified as Michael James, the teacher allegedly resigned over racist behavior towards classroom decorations.
According to the Pensacola News Journal, in a letter emailed to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith, James wrote that a district employee removed pictures of historic Black American heroes from his classroom walls under the claim that the images were “age inappropriate.” The photos removed from the teacher’s bulletin board at O.J. Semmes Elementary School included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell, and George Washington Carver.
“It really floored me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that.”
According to the News Journal, James chose the board’s theme because most of the students and residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the school identify as Black. By putting up images of these historic figures, he hoped to motivate his students with inspirational leaders who look like them.
In addition to the pictures of the Black leaders, James said he posted a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance in the bulletin board’s upper right-hand corner.
“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 to the governor and superintendent.
He noted that he could not work for a school, or under the umbrella of a school district, that would hire people who would condone such behavior.
“I hate to say this about everybody in the staff or the leadership there, but something is not right,” he said. “Something needs to be changed or fixed.
James sent his letter addressing the issue Monday night, and by Tuesday he resigned as a teacher.
Escambia County Public Schools spokesperson Cody Strother sent the following statement on behalf of the school district:
“Our office was made aware of this employee’s resignation and his stated reasons for resigning very early this morning, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022,” the statement read. “Around the same time, we were copied on an email written by this individual and released to the Governor’s Office and various media outlets before we had any opportunity to investigate. We are now in the process of conducting a full investigation. 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.”
The district has yet to confirm the identity of the district employee who allegedly removed the pictures from James’ classroom walls; however, in his letter James said the employee worked as a board-certified behavior analyst for the school district.
He noted that he not only spent $58 of his own money to buy school supplies, but spent hours decorating the board behind his desk.
On Monday, he said the behavior analyst and another behavior coach entered his classroom to help him set up the room, which while he found “unusual,” he went along with.
“They came in, and we started moving tables around and swapping some out, and I had made the bulletin board a couple of days earlier.”
He recalled: ”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.”
When James questioned what the behavioral analyst was doing, “She said something along the lines of it wasn’t age appropriate. Something like that,” James said.
While he says she did not mention race, he noted that she also seized a picture of former President Barack Obama that was placed near his desk.
“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 kid are too young‘ or something like that. It floored me. I thought, ‘This is the first Black president.’”
This was James’ first experience in a Florida school. He has previously worked in other states.
“I don’t know who guided her or why she took that on her own. I’ve never seen that in 15 years — just completely take down my board — without asking or anything,” he said.
“I didn’t say anything else. I honestly let it go, but got to thinking about it and got pretty upset,” he added. “I could have just sent it the principal. But things need to get done. A lot of times people can just sweep things under the rug.”
In response to the incident, Smith told the News Journal that teachers are permitted to decorate their classrooms with educational materials. He added that he was unaware of any policies that would prohibit a teacher from displaying pictures of inspirational American heroes on their walls.
James’ resignation comes amid a national teacher shortage that began at the start of the pandemic. In addition to the number of teachers who have lost their lives due to the novel coronavirus, many teachers have retired or resigned due to school policies or health concerns. Not to mention the increased number of mass shootings in school districts that has impacted teachers nationwide.
As a result teachers are in demand everywhere, so James is not worried about finding a new job.
“I’ll be teaching somewhere in a month,” he said. “I have excellent credentials.”
Others outside of the school district also commented on the incident, including Charlie Crist, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor to challenge DeSantis in November. Crist blamed DeSantis’ notion of “culture wars” for politicizing Florida’s public schools.
“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’s 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’,” Crist said in a statement to the News Journal.
“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.