Trust lost over Shively incident, aftermath

As a retired educator who once taught in Paducah, I have followed a Facebook thread about the photograph of Superintendent Donald Shively in blackface at a 2002 Halloween gathering. Many of these Facebook comments excused Mr. Shively’s costume choice as an unfortunate mistake made 18 years ago when he was a teacher in Paducah Public Schools. Another person said the photo was released by someone with an ax to grind. Someone else said to let the one without sin cast the first stone.

There is a clear line between a mistake and racial indifference. This Halloween party event occurred in 2002. 2002 wasn’t the age of unenlightenment. A 2002 teacher would not have been ignorant that dressing in blackface was disrespectful to the students he taught. He would not have appeared in blackface to a public event that black parents might attend. He would have known better.

It’s revealing that Mr. Shively only felt compelled to admit his indiscretion two years ago when he worried about being outed. It’s equally revealing that the school board condoned the indiscretion by ignoring it when Mr. Shively presented his dilemma. And now it’s become a public disgrace and negatively impacts the community.

All this talk about white privilege isn’t made up stuff. The “everyone makes mistakes” argument reinforces that privilege. The “he’s being treated unfairly by someone with an ax to grind” demonstrates a desire to excuse Mr. Shively’s bad behavior by shifting the blame. The “let the one without sin cast the first stone” uses scripture to dismiss an intentional insult. Superintendent Shively’s mistake probably didn’t hurt most white folks feelings. But it should have.

I’ve never met Superintendent Shively, so I have no ax to grind. He acted appropriately to ask for forgiveness after the photo became public, Yet it will be extremely difficult to rebuild trust with the African American community members who comprise 52% of Paducah’s public schools that he was hired to serve. Effective leaders must have the trust of those they lead. I suspect that at least 52% of the parents who entrust their children to Paducah Public Schools have lost that trust. So how effective can this superintendent and school board be in the district’s future?


Paula Miller

Greensboro, N.C.

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