Here’s an interesting one for you. A teacher in Escambia County, Florida, resigned this week after allegedly dealing with racist conduct on the part of another school district employee. Now, progressives are using this story to launch a rather dubious attack on the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits the teaching of far-leftist ideas on race in K-12 schools.
The Pensacola News Journal reported that teacher Michael James sent an email to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith claiming that a district employee “removed pictures of historic Black American heroes from his classroom walls, citing the images as being ‘age inappropriate.’”
James had put up images of notable black Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Colin Powell, and George Washington Carver in his classroom. It was these pictures that the other employee allegedly took issue with.
From the report:
James chose the board’s theme because the majority of the students and the residents in the neighborhoods that surround O.J. Semmes are Black, and he wanted to motivate his students with inspirational leaders they could easily look up to and see themselves.
James, 61, of Daphne, Alabama, sent his letter to the governor Monday night. He officially resigned from his position as an exceptional student education teacher at O.J. Semmes Elementary School on Tuesday morning.
The school district issued a statement acknowledging the matter and explaining it would be conducting an investigation.
The teacher – who happens to be white – said he could not work for a school that would support this type of 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 explained that on Monday, the district employee, who is a behavior analyst, entered his classroom to help him set it up.
“That is kind of unusual, but that’s OK,” James thought. “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.”
The bulletin board included several images of black historical figures and the Pledge of Allegiance. Each picture had short blurbs explaining their accomplishments.
“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,” the teacher recounted.
James said when he asked the behavioral analyst what she was doing, she “said something along the lines of it wasn’t age appropriate. Something like that.”
Naturally, Democrats tried to spin this story as an example of how the Stop WOKE Act is RAAAYCISSS. Charlie Crist, who is running to challenge DeSantis for governor, issued a statement blaming “culture wars” for bringing politics into the state’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’,” he bloviated.
“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”
He also made a similar statement on Twitter:
A teacher in Escambia resigned after a school district employee asked that photos of historic Black American heroes be removed from his classroom.
It's the sad reality of DeSantis’ Florida — his culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, including our classrooms.
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) August 10, 2022
But it appears there is more to this story. The district issued a statement refuting his claims. Another Pensacola News Journal report explained:
According to the school district’s statement, two district employees came to James’ classroom to assist him in getting his room set up for the first day of school. One of those employees was a board certified behavior analyst and the other was a behavior coach.
“Mr. James’s teaching assignment for 2022-2023 was to be a very small unit (4-6 students) of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students,” the statement read.
“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,” according to the statement.
The behavior analyst and coach “engaged” James in “reconfiguring the room and making it more academically sound for his teaching assignment,” according to the district.
The statement continued: “The behavior analyst told James that the bulletin board directly behind his teaching area had to be dedicated to state-required curricular materials that he would require to teach his specific students, according to the district.”
The district also explained that because James was going to be teaching special needs children, “it is critical the instructional materials be within their line of sight during instruction, for the purposes of student focus and retention.”
“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.
It appears as though James misinterpreted – intentionally or unintentionally – the reasons for removing the material. But he could have easily cleared this up by having a conversation with district leadership, which indicates this might have been a stunt. Indeed, the report also notes that this is not the first time he has made controversial statements. When running for mayor of Sylacauga, Alabama, he called for the public hanging of people who repeat drug dealers.
So in the end, it appears this was nothing more than a stunt designed to create a fake controversy. The fact that he resigned and emailed the governor instead of first discussing the matter with the district illustrates his true intentions here. Unfortunately, with the progressive furor over the Stop WOKE Act, it would not be surprising to see more of these stories pop up.