Sylacauga High School teacher seen in controversial picture remains employed, community wants to know why

Sylacauga school system explains response to controversial photo
Sylacauga school system explains response to controversial photo
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 6:26 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A community demanding answers because a Sylacauga High School special education teacher seen in a controversial photo remained on the job.

The picture shows the teacher posing in front of the children’s book Curious George, a popular read about an orphaned monkey from Africa. The teacher is smiling and giving a thumbs up, and at the bottom of the picture are the words: Celebrate Black History Month.

WBRC blurred the teacher’s face and will not release her name at this time because her father and the school district said the circumstances surrounding the picture were not what they seemed.

The superintendent, Dr. Michele Eller, confirmed the person in the picture is their employee and that they’d acted since the picture surfaced. Eller said the system conducted a full investigation and found that the teacher was not at fault.

We spoke with the teacher’s father by phone. He said the picture was taken while she was reading books to students and recently her husband, thinking it was funny, added the words Celebrate Black History Month and then posted the picture on Snapchat. The teacher’s father condemned his son-in-law and said his daughter’s reputation was being ruined because of the husband’s actions.

Eller released an apology to WBRC from the teacher’s husband submitted March 12, 2022:

“My wife had nothing to do with the post that has been circulating Facebook. I posted the photo. It was inappropriate and a complete error. I am sorry to everyone who has been affected by my carelessness. Going forward I will be more attentive to how my words/actions affect others. As a graduate of Sylacauga, I sincerely apologize for my behavior and deeply regret any harm I have caused my community and my wife.”

Superintendent Eller said a former employee of the system saw the post, took a screenshot of the picture, and uploaded it on Facebook in March.

The post went viral and the backlash has been swift.

“You’re going to associate African Americans with a monkey,” Tomeka Hale a Sylacauga native and school grandparent, said.

She says the long painful history of Black people being referred to as monkeys opened a deep wound.

“We’ve had these experiences all through the years and just to see that picture floating around. I was outraged,” Hale said.

Eller said because the investigation found the teacher did not post the picture or give consent, the administration was limited in disciplinary options, but she said the teacher was reprimanded.

Eller did not divulge what the punishment was.

As of April 2022, the teacher remained in the classroom.

Hale said she did not believe the explanation given by the family or the district and wanted more done.

“She works with special needs children. How fair is that to them? You have African American students in there and you feel some kind of way about them, but they allow you to come back into this classroom to work with some of the individuals who can’t even defend themselves,” Hale complained.

Superintendent Eller said she does not tolerate racism of any kind and did take the matter seriously.

Eller added that the district sent a letter to families on March 11, 2022, saying that the situation warranted additional social media training, that all schools would close on March 18th, and that all employees were required to participate.

WBRC confirmed that training did take place.

WBRC made numerous attempts to speak with the teacher and her husband, we did not hear back before this article was written.

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