Suspended OPRF teacher reinstated

Anthony Clark, who was placed on leave after posting a blackface photo to Facebook, goes back to work Friday

October 19th, 2017 11:30 AM

OPRF teacher Anthony Clark. | Submitted

Anthony Clark, the Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher who was put on paid administrative leave last week for posting to Facebook a Snapchat photo of a student in blackface, was reinstated on Thursday. Clark said he will be back to work Friday.  

The district had prepared for a crowd during a committee of the whole meeting on Oct. 17, moving the meeting from the board room to a larger space on the same floor, but fewer than 10 people showed up.

At the meeting, District 200 board President Jackie Moore re-emphasized that Clark's suspension was not disciplinary in nature and that it was a measure taken to "ensure that the rights of all parties are protected while the district is reviewing this incident. Please know that securing a safe and healthy learning environment for the students is the district's highest priority."

One attendee, well-known Oak Park activist John Duffy, read a statement in support of Clark.

"In intervening with the student, I believe teacher Anthony Clark acted in pursuing a vision members of this administration and board have professed a newly found belief in — a philosophy, and commitment to the process and protocols of restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions as a substitute for our traditional lock step punitive approaches to student infractions of school rules and policies," Duffy said.

On Oct. 8, a 17-year-old senior at OPRF posted to Snapchat a photo of himself wearing a black charcoal exfoliating mask with the caption, "Vote me for BLU president. For those who don't know BLU is Black Leaders Union." The student also inserted an emoji depicting a neutral face beside the caption.

The teenager took the post down within a few hours after receiving backlash and posted an apology, but a screenshot image of the photo, along with the words 'hi racism!' scrawled by someone else, was circulated numerous times.

Clark has said that he posted the photo to Facebook in an effort to diffuse the fallout. He said that he did not know that the photo was of an OPRF student and that, after he discovered the photo was a student (whom he knew), took it down.

On Oct. 10, Clark was placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation of the incident. A statement released by District 200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams that day indicated that the teacher may have violated the district's social media policy. The student was suspended on Oct. 12.

In an interview with Wednesday Journal on Oct. 9, the teenager apologized for the post.

"I want to make sure that everyone knows how I feel, that I'm very regretful and would love to learn from this experience," the student said, adding that he doesn't consider himself a victim. "People's anger is justified. I did not check my white privilege. I did not think about what I posted. There's no excuse. I did this and I take responsibility for my actions."

In a statement read over OPRF's PA system last Thursday morning, Black Leaders Union President Kennedy Holliday and Student Council President Sydney Rayburn acknowledged that many students were "hurt and angry" about the Snapchat post, and that some students had said that they wanted to post a copy of the photo with the student's address.

"We understand these feelings," the leaders stated. "But acting on them solves nothing. Instead of lashing out at an individual, we ask that our community instead focus on the much bigger issue of institutional racism."

The teenager said that he has marched with Clark during anti-racism demonstrations and has even volunteered on the teacher's campaign for Congress. Earlier this year, Clark, who founded the nonprofit Suburban Unity Alliance, announced that he would be running in 2018 against U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th).

The teenager and his mother said they were supportive of Clark's actions taken in the wake of the Snapchat post. In a statement, the mother said that Clark "has supported our student and our family during a very difficult time."

Clark's suspension also set off a wave of actions by his many supporters. One created a petition urging the district to reinstate the teacher, which has so far garnered more than 5,500 signatures. And last Saturday, around 50 people marched from the Oak Park Public Library to the Oak Park Farmers Market in the pouring rain as a demonstration of support for Clark.