In Education

‘Inaccuracies’: Florida School Investigates Teacher’s Claims About MLK Poster Removed From Classroom

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  • Escambia County public school concluded its investigation on teacher Michael James after he resigned stating photos of Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. were removed from his classroom. 
  • “The Behavior Analyst informed Mr. James the bulletin board directly behind his teaching area needed to be dedicated to state-required curricular materials he would need to engage this specific group of students in their daily learning and development activities, as they were seated at his teaching table with him,” the district statement obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation said.
  • James says he knew some students would not be able to read the posters but intended to read and teach the students about the pictured leaders.

A Florida school district’s investigation concluded that a teacher’s claims about photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman being removed from his classroom because they weren’t “age appropriate,” were “inaccurate,” according to the district statement obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Michael James of Escambia County public school, in Pensacola, Florida, resigned from the school Aug. 8 claiming a district employee had allegedly removed photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver from his classroom bulletin board. The district’s Equal Educational Opportunity Title IX Compliance Office concluded its investigation into the incident on Thursday, stating the photos were removed because the text accompanying them were “too complex” for James’ students.

“We’d like to clear up some inaccuracies in the claims made by our former employee, Mr. Michael James,” the district said in a statement obtained by the DCNF.

A “board certified behavior analyst” and a “behavior coach” assisted James with setting up his classroom for a group of four to six Autism Spectrum Disorder students on Aug. 8, the district statement provided to the DCNF said. James needed assistance arranging his room to make it more “academically sound for his teaching assignment,” which the district employees helped with.

James decorated his board with photos of black inspirational leaders because a majority of his students are black. A photo of former President Barack Obama was placed on James’ desk.

“The Behavior Analyst informed Mr. James the bulletin board directly behind his teaching area needed to be dedicated to state-required curricular materials he would need to engage this specific group of students in their daily learning and development activities, as they were seated at his teaching table with him,” the district statement obtained by the DCNF said. “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.”

James, however, said in a statement to the DCNF that he never granted permission to the employees to help with the board.

“There was never any mention of dedicating the bulletin board to state standards,” James said in a statement shared with the DCNF. “Not one word even similar to this was mentioned. The bulletin board I prepared was fully in line with state standards for this population and its pure diversion to state otherwise.”

The behavior analyst called the board “awesome” but noted that “the language and reading levels on the posters were too complex” James’ students, the district statement provided to the DCNF read.

“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,’” the district statement provided to the DCNF said. “At this point, the Behavior Analyst put up number and alphabet charts that are primary instructional materials for ASD students. 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.”

James alleged in his resignation letter to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith that a district employee had removed the images from his bulletin board because they were “age inappropriate.”

“Understanding that some students would not be able to read, I fully intended to read to them while teaching about these famous Black men and women as well as how to read,” James said in a statement shared with the DCNF. “With that said autistic children are some of the most intelligent and talented children I have worked with over these past 15 years. They are often more academically advanced than non-ESE students. Yes, some in my class would be able to read the statements under the pictures and at the very least be taught to read. That is what teachers do.”

In 2020, while running for mayor in Sylacauga, Alabama, James was criticized for posting on Facebook calling for drug dealers to be publicly hung, Alabama.com reported.

“I think that was taken out of context,” James told the DCNF. “They tried to make it come off like some kind of racial thing that I said. I was talking about, drug traffickers, not drug users. There’s more far more white drug traffickers than there are black drug traffickers. But, you know, that’s just the way that story went that time.”

Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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