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.”