A middle school history teacher in small-town southeastern Michigan has been placed on paid administrative leave because he informed students that white entertainers used to paint their faces black to imitate black people and showed kids a video about it.
The teacher is Alan Barron, reports the Monroe News. The 59-year-old teacher has taught in the local school district for well over three decades and is retiring in just two weeks.
The suspension occurred after an assistant principal observed Barron teaching an eighth-grade class. Barron’s topic for the day was racial segregation laws during the Jim Crow era. The lesson included a video which showed how white actors commonly used theatrical makeup known as blackface — a practice which began in the nineteenth century and lasted over 100 years.
The unidentified assistant principal concluded that Barron’s lesson about how entertainers used to be racist was itself racist, according to the local paper. The assistant principal also apparently ordered that Barron stop the video as it was being played.
Parents with kids at the school have overwhelmingly opposed the suspension.
One parent, Adrienne Aaron, who has a daughter in the class, spoke with the Monroe News.
“It had nothing to do with racism,” Aaron (whose husband is black) said. “History is history. We need to educate our kids to see how far we’ve come in America. How is that racism?”
“He’s one of the best teachers we’ve had,” Aaron added. “We can’t believe that this is happening.”
Other parents have taken to social media. In a missive on Facebook, a frustrated parent called Barron a “great” teacher who “has changed many children’s lives.”
A school district spokesman, Bobb Vergiels, refused to say that Barron was suspended. Instead, Vergiels said, Barron is “on leave.”
“Mr. Barron has been on leave for about a week while we look into a reported situation in his classroom,” a school district statement obtained by the Monroe News reads. “Because this is a personnel matter that is going through the teacher-contract required steps, we cannot comment any further.”
As a result of the suspension, Barron cannot attend any school functions including an annual banquet during which he and other retiring teachers will be honored.
Barron is not the first teacher in Monroe to make national headlines. In March, officials at a local high school suspended band teacher Brian Sullivan because his technique for improving a girl’s posture while playing her instrument was to duct-tape her ankles to a chair. (RELATED: High school band teacher on leave for duct-taping kid’s legs to chair over bad posture)