Teacher quits after he says posters of Black leaders were taken down at Florida school

(Miami Herald) - A Florida teacher quit his job on Aug. 9 after he said a district employee removed pictures of Black leaders from his classroom bulletin board without permission. School district officials say the posters were taken down with consent from the teacher because they did not meet standards and needs of the students.

Teacher quits after he says posters of Black leaders were taken down at Florida school

Michael James was almost ready on Monday, Aug. 8, for his first day as an exceptional student education (ESE) teacher at O.J. Semmes Elementary. It would be his 15th year teaching students with disabilities. For the last several days he said he had been attending faculty meetings, buying school supplies, and organizing his new classroom at the public school in Pensacola.

But before the first bell of the school year even rang, James submitted his resignation. “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids,” James, 61, told McClatchy News. “It’s about somebody standing up and making changes for these kids.”

James told McClatchy News that two district employees, one a behavior analyst and the other a behavior coach, entered his classroom to help him prepare it for students. He was going to be teaching four to six children on the autism spectrum, according to the school district. After moving around some desks and chairs, James said he was cutting out decorations for the wall. He claims he noticed the behavior analyst taking down a bulletin board, which James had just put up, without asking him. It had posters of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and other Black historical figures, James said. “They kind of came in – and I’ve never experienced this before - and kind of took over,” James said. “It floored me that she started taking it down.”

James said that when he questioned her, she gave no explanation other than a “short blurb” suggesting it wasn’t “age appropriate.” He wanted to create a bulletin specifically of Black historical figures for inspirational purposes, James told McClatchy News, because he had learned most of the students at O.J. Semmes were Black. James said the behavior analyst also took down a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance on the same board and referenced a poster of former President Barack Obama on the table that he had not yet added.

“She picked it up and said, ‘You don’t need to put this up,’” said James. “And I thought, where’s that coming from? “The whole thing really rang poorly after I thought about it again and again.” The next morning, James said he sent notice of his resignation to the school, which followed a complaint letter describing the incident to Escambia County School Superintendent Timothy Smith and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Am I to believe Escambia County Schools employs those that dislike African Americans and are against swearing allegiance to the United States of America?” James wrote in the letter.

McClatchy News reached out to the governor’s office, which said it will “await the determinations from the District” to issue a full response....READ MORE