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Paducah schools superintendent reprimanded by state board in connection to blackface photo

Liam Niemeyer

A state board that issues and renews certificates for Kentucky teachers and administrators reprimanded the Paducah Public Schools superintendent in a December meeting in connection to a blackface photo of the superintendent that resurfaced in 2020.

The Education Professional Standards Board in an agreed order reprimanded superintendent Donald Shively for “his offensive characterization of African Americans.”

“The school environment must be welcoming to all who come to learn and teach. Such racist and deplorable conduct interferes with students’ ability to learn and staff’s ability to teach in a safe and welcoming environment for all people,” the order states. “The Board will not tolerate any further misconduct from Shively.”

The order places Shively under a five-year probationary period, with any further disciplinary action of Shively potentially resulting in a suspension of Shively’s certificate. The order also states Shively has provided written proof to the board of professional development and training, including:

  • 66 hours of professional development training with Pastor Edward L. Palmer Sr., recipient of the MLK Jr. Leadership Award and the Thurgood Marshall Social Justice Impact Award on topics including Implicit Bias, AntiRacism, Racial Sensitivity, and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. 
  • 10 hours of training from the American Association of School Administrators’ “Leading for Equity” series.
  • 9 hours of training from the National School Board Association’s Equity Symposium and Summer Equity Symposium.
  • 4 hours of training on the topic of Diversity Equity and Inclusion with Dr. Roger Cleveland, Director of Faculty Development and Diversity Initiatives at Eastern Kentucky University.

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education in an email said if an educator’s certificate is suspended, they are not allowed to “engage in employment that requires certification by the Education Professional Standards Board.” A potential suspension would not exceed two years.

According to the KDE spokesperson, board staff received a complaint against Shively on Oct. 22, 2020. The board first reviewed Shively’s case on April 26, 2021, and the board voted to send the case to an attorney to investigate and gather information on the incident. The spokesperson said the board negotiated an agreed order with Shively and approved the order on Dec. 13, 2021.

A blackface photo of Shively surfaced in Oct. 2020, which Shively previously said was from a Halloween party in 2002. Shively immediately apologized for the photo, and the photo sparked protests and calls for Shively’s termination, particularly in the local Black community. The Paducah Public Schools board in Dec. 2020 decided to retain Shively, have him take 40 days of unpaid leave and undergo professional development. In a Dec. 2020 interview with WKMS News, Shively called the photo a “horrible, very regrettable mistake.”

In a Tuesday school board meeting, some community members called for the school board not to renew Shively’s contract with the school district, which expires on June 30. Andiamo White – a parent who has previously called for Shively’s termination and a part of a local committee assisting the school district with an equity audit – held up the photo of Shively in blackface at the meeting.

“It shouldn’t take that we come here every month with reasonings why his contract shouldn’t be renewed,” White said. “This alone should tell you why his contract shouldn’t be renewed.”

A spokesperson for Paducah Public Schools said Shively was “out of town” and unavailable for comment. Shively did not respond to a text message requesting comment.

Correction: This story previously stated the agreed order was approved during a meeting on Feb. 14. The meeting when the board approved the agreed order was Dec. 13, 2021.

This story was updated to include commentary from a Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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