Gwinnett teacher under fire over Black Lives Matter poster

The poster in Paige McGaughey's virtual classroom background. (HANDOUT)
The poster in Paige McGaughey's virtual classroom background. (HANDOUT)

A Gwinnett County Public Schools teacher said district officials told her a Black Lives Matter poster visible in the background of her virtual classroom was a distraction and impacting her “effectiveness” as a teacher.

Paige McGaughey, a teacher at Alton C. Crews Middle School in Lawrenceville, said she added the sign to let Black students know she was an ally after the death of George Floyd on May 25 sparked protests around the world against police brutality and inequality. Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis after a white officer, since fired, held a knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes. A total of four officers were fired and face felony charges.

McGaughey said she was told parents complained she was indoctrinating their children and that they were concerned she would only focus on “Black stuff.”

“I know that deep learning can only occur when students feel safe,” said McGaughey, who has been teaching for 20 years. “I also have decor and books in my classroom library that show multiculturalism regarding LGBTQ+, Muslim students, immigrants and so on.

“As a white female teacher, I want the message to be ‘you matter and you are safe here’ to all my students.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said while McGaughey was not asked to take down the poster, she was asked to consider how not to make the poster a distraction for her students.

“Our employees do have the same civic responsibilities and privileges as any other citizen, including actively supporting causes,” she said. “However, that is not usually done in the workplace as it can become an effectiveness issue if it creates a disruption to the learning environment.”

McGaughey said she was surprised by the negative reaction to the poster. More than a dozen students and teachers have sent messages thanking her for its presence. She said she has had several conversations with school district officials, including her principal, about the poster’s future.

“HR would not tell me to remove it, but kept saying it impacts my effectiveness as a teacher,” she said, adding she was told there could be consequences if other parents complain.

After the controversy over the poster surfaced, McGaughey posted online on her teacher page about the poster and why she’s leaving it up. She spoke openly about acceptance and how she saw the matter personally, being a mom to a child seen as different.

“All children matter to me,” she said. “As the mother of a gay child, I wish more teachers had embraced my child’s ‘differences’ in school. If they had, middle school may have been a bit easier for my child.”

The sign, she said, will remain.

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