Dallas-area middle school teacher who approved ‘BLM’ artwork for yearbook placed on leave

A Dallas-area middle school art teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave after parents complained about the back cover design of the yearbook which contained “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” imagery.

Kayla Mick, a teacher at Downing Middle School in Flower Mound in Lewisville, a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, granted approval of the artwork and design after it was agreed upon by eighth-grade students, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Following her suspension, district officials said they had launched an investigation behind the design of the back cover before any further actions would be taken. That said, Amanda Brim, a spokeswoman for the Lewisville Independent School District, characterized as “inaccurate” claims that Mick was placed on leave over complaints lodged by parents, though she did not provide any further information, the Dallas Morning News added, because of the ongoing review.

“It is our best hope that all of our teachers connect with students in a way that makes them feel safe and creates a sense of belonging in every classroom,” Brim told the paper. “Having said that, we expect staff to remain neutral while engaging students in these conversations, in accordance with district policy.”

The yearbook was distributed earlier this month ahead of the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. One of them, Derek Chauvin, who was fired immediately after video of the incident went viral, has since been convicted of murdering Floyd.

The back cover contained the words that Floyd spoke as he was being pinned to the pavement by Chauvin’s knee as he was dying, which Brim said caused consternation to some parents.

As such, school officials gave parents and families an opportunity to ask for an alternative cover for the yearbook, the paper reported, adding that former Flower Mound mayoral candidate Stephanie Bell started a petition drive to protect students’ free speech and the teacher.

“The artwork chosen represents major events in our community and around the world including the documentation of racial inequality protests, COVID-19, the 2020 presidential election and support of basic human rights,” said Bell, according to the paper. “Censorship in journalism simply because you disagree with the content is not only unacceptable, it’s dangerous.”

She went on to say that the local community has politicized both of the phrases included on the cover regarding Floyd “in an unfortunate manner.” She added that those phrases were the primary reasons why parents were objecting and what the controversy was about.

Instead of censoring students, Bell suggested a better approach for the school and community at large is to have children engage in conversations about events that may present some challenges for them.

“This is such a time in a child’s development where they are learning to be their own person and when we’re muzzling them from thought,” Bell told the paper.

BLM as an organization had essentially gone dormant until Floyd’s death, leaping into prominence again as riots — many of them attributed to the movement — broke out around the country, causing more than $1 billion in damages, at least two dozen deaths, and injury to hundreds of police officers.

But just as rapidly as BLM rose again in prominence, the organization’s favorability fell following those riots and demonstrations as they continued throughout last summer and fall.

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Jon Dougherty

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