A Florida teacher has resigned from his job at an elementary school after alleging that a district employee removed pictures depicting African-American leaders.
Michael James, a teacher at O.J. Semmens Elementary School, says that a collage he created of historical Black leaders which included Martin Luther King, Jr., Colin Powell, Harriet Tubman and former President Barack Obama was removed from the bulletin board for being “age inappropriate.”
James says that the objective of the images were to display Black figures of which majority Black class could relate to. Although he would not name the staff member who removed the images, James, who was setting up his classroom before the start of the school year says that he was floored by the actions of the staff member.
James said that while tending to another task, he saw a woman remove something from his bulletin board. He then asked her what she was doing.
“She said something along the lines of it wasn’t age appropriate. Something like that,” James remembered.
“I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that,” he told the newspaper.
James sent a letter of complaint to Florida Gov. Ron Desantis on Monday and resigned the following day.
“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 school said in a statement to the Journal. “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. … 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.”
Superintendent Tim Smith challenges James’ claims and has a different account of the events which occurred, clamming that behavior coaches and an analyst were assisting James in setting up his classroom for six students with autism who he would have been teaching.
“Mr. James’s room was, at that point, set up in a more ‘traditional’ classroom configuration, with rows of desks facing the front of the room, which is a wholly inappropriate use of space for a group of students like the ones he was assigned,” Smith said. “The two ECPS employees engaged Mr. James in reconfiguring the room and making it more academically sound for his teaching assignment.”
Smith says that the behavior analyst told James his bulletin contained material that were far too complex for his students to comprehend and that board needed “state-required curricular materials.”
“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,” Smith said. “The Behavior Analyst asked Mr. James if he minded if the posters were removed, and, according to both ECPS employees (interviewed separately) he said, ‘Yes, do whatever needs to be done.’ … At no time, in the presence of our employees, did Mr. James object. The posters were left in the classroom, for Mr. James to use as he so chose.”
The governor’s office said in a statement: “Florida has high quality education standards to ensure students learn about African-American history. In fact, instruction in this subject is required under state law.”