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Florida School District Refutes Teacher’s Story That Fueled Headlines And Political Smears

Last week a Pensacola teacher alleged that staff at his school wrongfully removed a display of black American heroes.

Last week a Pensacola teacher alleged that staff at his school wrongfully removed a display of black American heroes.

The claim by Michael James, who is white, stoked suggestions of racism, including when he complained about the incident to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who seeks to challenge DeSantis in November, accused the governor of fomenting “culture wars”.

“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’ Florida—his culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, including our classrooms,” Crist said on Facebook. “Florida deserves a governor that gives students the freedom to learn and educators the freedom to teach.”

Then the school district got its say, and it turns out things, as frequently happens in such cases, are not what they seem, or what liberals had hoped.

James, a teacher at the O.J. Semmes Elementary School, asserted that staff took down his display of the late Gen. Colin Powell, Martin Luther King Jr., former President Barack Obama, and Harriet Tubman because the images were “age-inappropriate.” He resigned in protest of the staff’s action.

The school district investigated and late last week released a statement to clear up the  “inaccuracies” in James’ account.

James, a former exceptional student educator, was set to teach a small class of up to six children with autism, according to the Pensacola News-Journal.

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A board-certified behavior analyst and a behavior coach showed up to help James set up his classroom before the first day of school.

He had arranged the room in a “traditional” classroom setting, the district noted, with desks aligned in rows facing the front of the class. The district said that was “a wholly inappropriate use of space for a group of students like the ones he was assigned.”

The teaching area established by James included a bulletin board with the historic images.

The behavioral experts told him that space “had to be dedicated to state-required curricular materials that he would require to teach his specific students,” the News-Journal reported.

The school district maintained this was necessary “for the purposes of student focus and retention.”

The employees liked James’ display. One even called it “awesome” because of its historic nature. But they believed the wording and reading level included on James’ posters were too complex for these students.

According to the school district, which interviewed both staffers independently, James told them to “do whatever needs to be done” in reconfiguring the room. He also did not object to the posters being taken down.

“Had Mr. James objected at that time, or had he raised his concerns with school administration, we believe this situation could have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” the school district said in its statement.

“The instructional materials could have been displayed appropriately, and Mr. James’s display could simultaneously have been honored. We were surprised these basic communicative steps were not taken by such a veteran teacher.”

James could still display the posters however he saw fit, the district noted because they were left in his room.

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Newsweek, which also reported on the incident, noted that James never responded to the district’s efforts to reach him after his impetuous resignation.

James in response did tell the News-Journal that he was disappointed by the investigation’s outcome and that he believed the students could have mastered the posters’ language.

The problem, as always, is that the initial account will stick in many peoples’ minds.

While many in the media provided the school district’s take, a quick internet search shows headlines that don’t indicate the truth: that James didn’t share the whole story, and that Crist was absolutely wrong to blame DeSantis.

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