Durham County

Durham teachers in Confederate photo flap, back at it again

A week after teachers at The School of Creative Studies stirred controversy with a photo recreating the toppling of a Confederate statue in downtown Durham, they posted this photo on the Durham Association of Educators website as part of the local wear “Red4Ed” competition for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
A week after teachers at The School of Creative Studies stirred controversy with a photo recreating the toppling of a Confederate statue in downtown Durham, they posted this photo on the Durham Association of Educators website as part of the local wear “Red4Ed” competition for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Teachers who caused a flap recreating the toppling of a Confederate statue in downtown Durham were back competing for doughnuts again last week.

A group from the year-round School for Creative Studies posted a new photo on the Durham Association of Educators website that show nine people posing with hands over their mouths, ears and one with his or her back turned to the camera.

Efforts to reach teachers for comment were unsuccessful, so it’s unclear whether the new photo is a response to the earlier one that provoked a strong reaction online.

Durham teachers share photos on the DAE website as part of “Red for Ed,” a weekly morale builder for educators across the state.

Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, rewards teachers whose photo receives the most “likes” on the association’s website with Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Critics and supporters alike voiced strong opinions about the first photo, which showed a dozen people holding yellow crime-scene tape, like the yellow strap used to bring down the monument on East Main Street on Aug. 14.

Proffitt said he removed the photo a couple of hours after it appeared after school district officials expressed concern about it.

School board Chairman Mike Lee said he has received about nine calls about the first photo, with six callers supporting the teachers.

“I think it [the recreation] was in jest,” he said. “I support without reservation our teachers’ right to express themselves.”

Lee said the people who called to complain about the photo also have a right to express their opinions.

“I just happen to disagree with them,” Lee said. “I don’t think the teachers should be fired. I don’t think they should be disciplined.”

School board Vice Chairman Steve Unruhe, a retired teacher, wondered how the first photo became a news story.

“To me, this could be the biggest non-story of the year,” he said.

“It was just a group of teachers at the end of a long work day having some fun,” Unruhe said. “How is that a story? Teachers have a right to express themselves. They were just having some fun and that ought to be OK.”

School spokesman Chip Sudderth said DPS has not received a deluge of calls, but has heard from a number of people who called on the district to discipline the teachers.

“The majority of those calls have given an opinion of that nature,” said Sudderth, who explained that a disciplinary action taken against a teacher is a private matter covered under state law.

Sudderth said a smaller percentage of callers have complained that the teachers were making light of the protest against the Confederate statue and not being supportive of the protesters.

“They thought the teachers were being disrespectful of the protest,” Sudderth said.

Critics took aim at SCS teachers after the photo was tweeted by A.P. Dillon, co-founder and managing editor of American Lens.

A headline above a story in the conservative blog “The Gateway Pundit” described the recreation as “Sick” and teachers in the photo as “Unhinged.”

“Taxpayers must demand that the teachers involved, all the way up to the Principal and Superintendent are held accountable,” Cristina Laila wrote in the story for the blog. “These people are teaching young students that dressing like Antifa terrorists and destroying property is acceptable.”

Superintendent Bert L’Homme quickly issued a statement last week affirming the right of teachers to freely express themselves.

“The Durham Public Schools Board of Education and I strongly support the free speech rights of DPS employees as reflected in the Board’s February 2016 resolution,” L’Homme said.

That resolution reads in part: “The Durham Public Schools Board of Education recognizes that public school teachers, administrators and classified staff in North Carolina have free speech rights protected by the First Amendment, as long as the speech does not adversely impact the functioning of their public school.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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