Michael James, a man who taught at O.J. Semmes Elementary School in Pensacola, Florida, is sounding the alarm on what led him to quit just before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
James alleges that a school staff member went out of her way to remove posters of prominent African American leaders like Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver and Barrack Obama from his classroom bulletin board — an action that the teacher, who is white, is condemning as racist.
“It really floored me,” James said of the incident, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
“I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that,” he added, referring to the unnamed school staff member, described as a behavior analyst, who took down the posters in question.
It’s worth noting that James chose to feature the posters in his classroom because of the predominately Black neighborhoods surrounding the elementary school. He wanted to inspire his students by highlighting prominent figures in African American history.
A white teacher in Florida put up pictures of black historical figures H. Tubman, MLK Jr., Colin Powell & Obama. Most of his students are black. The teacher says he was told the pics weren’t “age appropriate” & highers ups removed them. The teacher quit. https://t.co/zTUH2zuedd
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) August 12, 2022
James, a 61-year-old from Alabama, ultimately wrote to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over the situation earlier this week. He resigned from O.J. Semmes Elementary shortly after that, just one day before the start of the school year.
In his email to DeSantis, James recalled two school employees helping him set up his classroom, which included a classroom bulletin board containing an array of Black leaders alongside “The Pledge of Allegiance.”
“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, according to the Pensacola News Journal. “She said something along the lines of it wasn’t age-appropriate. Something like that.”
“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?” the teacher added in his email, which was also sent to the school’s superintendent.
“Our office was made aware of this employee’s resignation and his stated reasons for resigning very early this morning, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022,” Escambia County Public Schools spokesperson Cody Strother said in a statement, according to the Pensacola News Journal. “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 Hill reports that the school district shares a different side to the story, alleging that the materials were removed solely because only “state-required curricular materials” are allowed on the bulletin board.
“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 school district noted, according to The Hill.
“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 statement continued.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the staff member’s decision to remove the posters, it ultimately resulted in James choosing to resign and call the school out.
“I hate to say this about everybody in the staff or the leadership there, but something is not right,” he said, the Pensacola News Journal reports. “Something needs to be changed or fixed.”
It’s worth adding that other prominent Floridians are calling out the situation, with former governor Charlie Crist, a Democrat who’s running against DeSantis in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election, blaming the situation on his incumbent opponent.
“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, the Pensacola News Journal reports.
“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price,” he poignantly continued.
What do you think about the situation?