San Juan School District Responds After Teacher Throws Away Students’ Black Lives Matter Posters

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU) sent a letter to the San Juan Unified School District superintendent after a California teacher allegedly threw away the “Black Lives Matter” posters four students made.

The letter from ACLU was sent Thursday (Nov. 21) in response to an incident that occurred in September when a parent volunteer, Magali Kincaid, was brought in to Del Paso Manor Elementary School to teach an art lesson. 

The Sacramento Bee reported the school invites volunteers to “conduct discussions that open the children’s eyes to the wonderful world of art,” according to the district.

According to an ACLU press release, Kincaid gave a lesson plan on how art can manifest into activism and covered topics like immigration, housing rights, animal rights and Black Lives Matter. 

Four students chose to create Black Lives Matter posters for the assignment and their teacher, David Madden, allegedly threw them away, requiring them to redo the assignment, reported KCRA

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After taking the situation to the school’s principal, Kincaid was also allegedly banned from teaching at the school again, according to the ACLU press release.

The complaint also stated that Madden told Kincaid that the Black Lives Matter posters were “inappropriate and political.” 

“The point of the lesson was to create a more inclusive school culture that affirmed the dignity and value of every student,” said Abre’ Conner, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, reported KCRA. “By censoring and punishing the students, the school violated their constitutional free speech rights, and sent the damaging message that supporting Black lives are not welcome in their classrooms.”

The Sacramento Bee reported several members of Black Lives Matter Sacramento spoke out on the situation saying, “Black skin is not political,” and teachers should be letting the students know “they do matter.” 

According to KCRA, after the letter to the superintendent, the San Juan Unified School District issued the following statement in response to ACLU:

“San Juan Unified is committed to developing an equitable environment in all of our classrooms where students feel comfortable sharing their voice. Some of the assertions made in the letter from the ACLU are new information to the district and we will be investigating to determine their validity. 

Art docent volunteers are welcomed into our classrooms to deliver district developed lessons aligned to grade-level standards. In this case, Ms. Kincaid was allowed to provide a lesson that was not prepared by the district’s art program and without having been trained. That should have not occurred and unfortunately led to disagreement between Ms. Kincaid and the classroom teacher on the assignment’s final outcome. 

As stated in the letter from the ACLU, the teacher’s understanding of the resulting assignment was for students to produce artwork related to a change they wanted to see within the school itself. Students whose artwork focused on large social issues, which varied in topic, and was not directly tied to the school, were asked by the teacher to complete another poster the next day. 

All artwork that met the assignment’s purpose was displayed in the classroom. 

It is inconsistent with our values and never our intent or desire for any student to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome to discuss issues that are important to them. We sincerely apologize if this experience made any student feel such discomfort. Censoring a student’s assigned work because of its content would not be acceptable. We are open and committed to continuing our work with students, staff, community partners and others to ensure that our school communities embrace a diversity of thoughts and experiences.”

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