Teachers at Cale Elementary School want schools Superintendent Matt Haas to apologize for taking down a poster put up for Black History Month and work to rebuild trust with the school, according to a letter signed by 32 teachers.
Two Cale teachers read the letter Thursday during the meeting’s public comment session.
“By improperly removing the poster and publicly and falsely claiming that Mountain View/Cale teachers were not using the poster instructionally, Matt Haas robbed our school community of the opportunity for learning about and understanding each other,” said Lori Ann Stoddart, reading from the letter.
Four other speakers also voiced their disapproval of Haas’ decision two weeks ago to order the removal of the poster that was designed to educate students about those who were enslaved.
The poster, written on yellow, laminated paper, read: “Dear Students, they didn’t steal slaves. They stole scientists, doctors, architects, teachers, entrepreneurs, astronomers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, etc. and made them slaves. Sincerely, your ancestors.”
Last week, Haas said the poster was true and worthy of discussion. However, he said it was taken down because it created a contentious environment at the school. On Thursday, he expanded on that and said a dozen staff members told the school’s principal that the poster was divisie and witnessed disagreements among students.
The poster was used last school year and put up this year without the new principal’s approval.
Otherwise, Haas largely stuck with his statement released last week, which said the poster was not appropriate for elementary school students without additional lessons or context.
“There was more than the school staff could have done prior to using the poster to set the stage for positive dialogue,” he said.
He did apologize to the teachers.
“I’m sorry to have put you in this position,” he said. “I should’ve done a better job as superintendent to set the stage for this work.”
Haas said that he makes mistakes, especially in terms of his communication style.
“That was the case here,” he said “I could have done better with that. However, I think we all need to take ownership and do a better job with these kinds of projects.”
Stoddart and Katie Morgans, another teacher at Cale, read the letter, which criticized Haas for blaming teachers and removing the poster.
“The poster did not cause disruption,” Stoddart said. “It caused discomfort.”
Reading the letter, Morgans called on Haas to recognize the hurt he caused the Cale community.
“Apologize for taking on the poster, for teacher blaming and for putting teachers in the position that makes us defend our pedagogy and profession,” she said. “This is the time to show students, families and our ACPS community how to do [restorative justice], and then grow and be better than our past.”
A number of teachers who signed the letter did not use their names, using an X instead.
Amanda Moxham, of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County, said it was unfortunate that “teachers that are absolutely terrified to tie their name to anything that is right.”
Moxham said the coalition is asking for the poster to be put back up, for restorative justice and for students to be talked to.
“Please support the teachers,” she said. “We have to become an anti-racist school system, and we do that by showing our children what to do when we made a mistake.”