A Florida teacher said he quit his new job at O.J. Semmes Elementary School in Pensacola on Tuesday (Aug. 9) after a school district employee allegedly removed pictures of Black leaders from his bulletin board.
Michael James, 61, told the Pensacola News Journal that the images included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver. James, who is white, chose those pictures to inspire and motivate his students who are predominantly Black.
He said the school district employee, whom he identified as a behavior analyst, told him that the pictures were “age inappropriate” for his K-5 students. James characterized her actions as racist though he didn’t recall her mentioning race as the reason she seized the photos, which included one of former President Barack Obama that was near his desk.
On Monday (Aug. 8), James emailed Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith to inform them about the incident that happened earlier that day.
Smith told the newspaper that a full investigation is underway and that he’s unaware of any policies that prohibit teachers from displaying inspirational American heroes on their walls.
"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 district’s 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."
Some have blamed DeSantis for creating an environment that encouraged the incident. A new state law the governor promoted dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act” took effect on July 1, CBS News reported. The law sets limits on how issues involving race may be taught in schools and allows parents to sue teachers and school districts that violate it.
DeSantis has also railed against teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT), a college-level academic framework to analyze systemic racism that’s not taught in primary and secondary schools. This policy, which other Republican-led states have also taken up, is widely viewed as a GOP misinformation campaign to stir up its political base for the 2022 midterm election.
“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’,” Charlie Crist, a Democratic nominee for governor, said in a campaign statement.
“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”