OPRF teacher suspended after posting student's image on Facebook

Anthony Clark placed on paid leave following blackface Snapchat incident

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Anthony Clark, the popular Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher and local community activist, has been suspended with pay by District 200 administration officials. 

Clark confirmed the suspension in a phone interview on Wednesday, explaining that the disciplinary measure was in relation to the fact that he posted a racially charged Snapchat photo showing an OPRF student wearing blackface to his Facebook account. He declined to go into more detail about the suspension.

When reached by phone on Wednesday morning, Karin Sullivan, the district's communications director, said that the district cannot comment on matters of personnel. 

In a statement released Tuesday, District 200 Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, said that the district is "deeply concerned not only about the harm done by the original post but also about the current level of disruption to the educational environment being created by subsequent social media posts related to the incident. 

"As a district, our priority is the well-being of our students. We have an obligation to provide an education for them in an environment where they feel safe, valued, and heard. The current level of discourse is negatively affecting the school learning environment as well as posing safety concerns for our students. We are taking measures to reduce the harm while we investigate this incident." 

The school district's faculty policy regarding employee use of social media, which is available on OPRF's website, states that "social media may not be used to share, publish or transmit information about or images of students and/or district employees without proper approval."

The policy also contains language similar to Pruitt-Adams' statement, which was posted on the school's website on Tuesday. The policy states that employee use of social media shall "not interfere with or disrupt the educational or working environment, or the delivery of education or educational support services."

In addition, the policy states that disicipline for violating the district's social media policy ranges "from prohibiting the employee from possessing or using any personal technology or social media at school to dismissal and/or indemnification for the district for any losses, costs, damages including reasonable attorney fees, incurred by the district relating to, or arising out of, any violation of this policy."

During an interview with Wednesday Journal on Monday, the 17-year-old OPRF senior said that he posted the photo to his Snapchat account on Sunday night. 

"Vote me for BLU president," reads the caption above the picture of the student in blackface. Underneath that statement he wrote, "For those who don't know BLU is Black Leaders Union," and inserted an emoji depicting a neutral face beside the bottom caption. 

The student said that, hours after posting the photo, he took it down after noticing the negative reaction it elicited among his friends and acquaintances. He said he then posted an apology to his Snapchat account. He has since written an open apology. On Monday, he and his mother said that D200 officials, fearing his safety, had requested that he stay home.

Clark, who knows the student and has vouched for his character, posted the controversial photo to Facebook before removing it after consulting with the student's mother and Amy Renzulli, the head of School of Rock, where the teenager is a member. Clark has since removed all Facebook posts related to the incident as part of his suspension, he said.  

The student said that he's marched with Suburban Unity Alliance, the nonprofit group Clark founded last year to fight against suburban racism, and has also volunteered with Clark's campaign for U.S. Congress. Clark announced his candidacy earlier this year. 

Clark had planned a meeting between the student and BLU members at his home on Wednesday before his suspension. That meeting has since been cancelled.  

After hearing of his suspension, the mother of the 17-year-old said that Clark "has supported our student and our family during a very difficult time. On his own time, not as a representative of the school, but as a fellow member of the community, he has worked hard to foster communication and understanding, even when it is difficult and uncomfortable."  

"I think that OPRF is fortunate to have him as a teacher and that the regard both students and parents have for him and the trust he has gained shows both his good character and positive impact on the school and community."

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Nick Polido  

Posted: October 13th, 2017 4:00 PM

We have moved on from losing our minds and have now entered crazy land.....

Brian Henderson  

Posted: October 13th, 2017 3:08 PM

I agree that Mr. Clark's actions should not warrant a suspension, but maybe we should consider that this is not his first infraction with the school.

Jeremy Horn  

Posted: October 13th, 2017 2:18 PM

After reading this article, I really believe that the board of education members of Oak Park and River Forest High School have blown this way out of proportion. Anthony V. Clark is absolutely an incredible person as a high school special education teacher, and a community activist that is apart of the non-profit organization, Suburban Unity Alliance. I am standing with Mr. Clark! I hope and pray that the residents of Oak Park and River Forest can move forward of this controversy and start to heal.

Tom Broderick from oak park  

Posted: October 13th, 2017 1:23 PM

Having read the article in the Wednesday Journal, (as well as the one in the Oak Leaves) it seems to me that the transgression was on the part of the student. In the WJ article, the parent of the transgressor comes down on the side of Anthony Clark. Seem reasonable to me. Does anyone recall one of the young aspirants to the British Throne being pilloried for wearing a Nazi costume to a party? That outcry also seems reasonable. Young folk and older folk will learn to become human beings when we embrace our humanity, not when we embrace hostility. It appears to me that Anthony Clark wanted to diffuse tensions, not increase them. His suspension without pay seems unwarranted. The authorities at OPRFHS need to re-examine this.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2017 5:33 PM

Young's aspiration as a community activist and fledgling politician has him "throw the student under the bus." That helps the teacher push his name into the public's consciousness. In doing that, he publicly shames/bullies a student in a Facebook post. No charity here toward the student. And, Young breaks the school's rules. Why lose a great opportunity to further his own political career? This is in no way use of the event as a "teachable" moment. I'm puzzled that politicizing the student's actions comes from a teacher who some seem to consider a "nice guy."

Alex Garcia  

Posted: October 12th, 2017 11:56 AM

Why is it surprising that a self-appointed "community organizer" takes it upon himself to break rules and common-sense boundaries?

Nick Polido  

Posted: October 12th, 2017 11:52 AM

As a parent who has had experiences with Student Intervention Directors and subsequent suspension of my child, the strict adherence to punishment under-General Behavior and Conduct Guidelines: http://www.oprfhs.org/shared-content-temp-responsive/documents/2017-18plannerupdated.pdf Included in this manual are teacher expectations: Teachers are expected to: ? Respect students, parents, school personnel and the public; ? Help students feel that they belong and to provide assistance to students when it is needed; ? Explain, maintain and enforce school rules and regulations consistent with the Code of Conduct; ? Communicate as necessary with students and as appropriate with parents and school personnel when possible violations of the Code of Conduct are observed; ? Discuss and refer students' problems that require special attention to appropriate school personnel and share in planning a program to help students live by the Code of Conduct; ? Help develop a sense of community within the school. Level 3: Potential Consequences: School officials will respond based on the circumstances and actions of the student(s). Infractions in Level 3 may result in, but are not limited to, in-school suspension, out of school suspension, up to and including expulsion in accordance with Board Policy. Mr. Clark's action clearly rises to a Level 3, What do you say to the next parent whose child make a similar infraction???

Alice Caputo  

Posted: October 12th, 2017 11:27 AM

OPRF should have a policy that prohibits teachers, staff or any other employee or adult school volunteer/coach from having social network contact with students, especially minors. They should also make their own accounts private. This might be new to D200, but similar policies have been in effect for years across the country. Find a policy that best fits and adopt it.

Alice Bethany  

Posted: October 12th, 2017 10:15 AM

Chelsea, you're a teacher? So bullying minors is your way to show them the light? I read the studen'ts account of what happened and while it may have been racially insensitive, I find it interesting how many people mention Trump's appearancd in a disparaging way. The hypocrisy is unreal. You don't teach children things by publicly humilating them. You TALK with them and reach an understanding.

Richard Fischer from OP  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 11:35 PM

Anthony Clark disciplined for his posting of student's picture??? Suspended WITH pay sounds more like a vacation rather than punishment. For those complaining Mr Clark was wronged I don't understand your reasoning. He saw the student's stupid post and instead of contacting him to show him how wrong it was, he reposts the picture which would make it spread faster since he probably has a much larger following than the student. The the school in all it's wisdom gives him a paid vacation for passing up a teaching moment for the student to instead further inflame the situation. Has everybody lost their minds?

Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 6:19 PM

I hope that OPRF reinstates Mr. Clark as quickly as possible. I get that he showed poor judgment by posting the photo, but he was also the person who stepped up to work with the boy in question and help him address this incident in a thoughtful and responsible manner. I've lived here for over 23 years and have never seen anyone contribute as much to our discussions of race and equity as Mr. Clark has. And he doesn't just talk about these issues, he provides leadership for meaningful action. All of our students are impacted by what happens next, and I can't imagine that we want to send the message that vision and courage will be silenced.

Chelsea Lynn G  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 6:08 PM

I'm sorry, but as a teacher, I am upset. Anthony was not out of line for posting the picture of the students "black face" snap chat post. If anything, it needed to be posted to show that Oak Park and River Forest has IGNORANCE dwelling within its walls. Hopefully, the admin is not coddling the student and disciplining him for his distasteful post. From my understanding, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he's lucky his post hasn't spread further than it should've.

Danny Knapp  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 5:27 PM

Mr. Clark showed active leadership and the commitment to commUNITY we have come to respect and admire in him. Clark should be receiving commendation here, not reprimands. We need more leaders to tackle these problems head on, and less fence-sitters to cast judgement after the teachable moment has passed!

Jason Cohen  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 4:25 PM

Clark certainly seems to have helped diffuse the situation but he's a teacher and an adult. It wasn't appropriate for him to post the info of a student. Teachers should be held to a higher standard than the students. What if something had happened to the student because of what he posted? It doesn't matter who could have exposed this info. He shouldn't have been the one to do it. It certainly seems like he's a good guy so this should be a learning opportunity for him and then he can move on. He's suspended with pay and I imagine it won't be a very long suspension.

James Hall  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 4:04 PM

So, rather than reprimanding the student through normal channels, he copies the student's photo and posts it on his own social media page, adds his own racial spin, and publicly shames the 17 year old boy? Seems completely rational.

Abby Bankes  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 2:31 PM

As an OPRFHS student, I can say without a doubt Mr. Clark is one of the only good things about this school. Also, it seems like quite a coincidence that they only choose to start enforcing a rule when it is in defense of a student in blackface, and a black teacher. In my opinion, it should be reversed, with the student receiving the suspension, but what would I know.

JD Ouellette  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 1:37 PM

Unreal - this is how white supremacy as a system is maintained. School should be disrupted by acts of racism on the part of students.

Conor Gallogly  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 12:28 PM

According to the "OPRF Student Apologizes for Snapchat Photo" article the original post garnered negative feedback so quickly that the student took it down and apologized within hours. It was already out, being shared widely, at least among the student community. Anthony Clark had nothing to do with that. His posting it did not add to the insult received by black and brown students. Nor did it harm the student. On the contrary, this article quotes the mother appreciating Clark's support. I'm disappointed that the district suspended Clark, especially as they investigate the incident and promise "provide opportunities for our school to discuss the harmful behavior and work together to improve our school climate". Clark is one of the high school's boldest leaders in improving understanding among different groups within the school. It seems deeply unfair to blame Clark for the discourse that is negatively affecting the school learning environment when it was the racist snapchat that negatively impacted the school community.

Judy Chrisman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 10:02 AM

I agree with Jennie - we all make mistakes and Anthony Clark seems to be a well-liked and talented teacher. I would like to note, however, that the 17 year old student is still that - a student who is learning. When he realized the impact of what he had posted he took it down and apologized. On the other hand, Anthony Clark is an adult, a teacher and a respected member of our community. He should have known better than to repost the offensive picture to his own account. I doubt that helped to solve any problem. Hopefully, getting through this together as a caring community will help us all grow.

Jennie Henzel  

Posted: October 11th, 2017 9:33 AM

It's clear that Mr. Clark is a gifted and respected teacher and valued for his equity work in our community. If anything can be learned from this event, it is that we all make mistakes.

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