The Paducah Board of Education after about two hours of private deliberation in executive session directed Superintendent Donald Shively to take 40 days of unpaid leave for “additional training, education, and community involvement.”
This action follows weeks of community unrest and calls for Shively’s resignation by parents, community members, and the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP with the resurfacing of a photo of Shively in blackface.
The motion passed by the board directs Shively to take 40 days off between now and 2022, with 20 of those days off between now and the start of the 2021 school year. Board member James Hudson abstained from the vote, with all others voting in favor.
Board Chair Carl LeBuhn in a statement said Shively during that time off would take part in “focused learning opportunities” selected by the board, the Kentucky Educators Association, local leaders and other community members. Some of the time off would be used for Shively to regain trust from community leaders, parents, and students in future meetings, LeBuhn said.
“The board has determined that Dr. Shively should remain in his current role, but that the board’s evaluation of Dr. Shively’s performance should focus more closely on Dr. Shively’s progress in areas like cultural and racial sensitivity, empathetic communication, keen recognition of implicit bias, and a deeper understanding of issues confronting minority groups,” LeBuhn said.
LeBuhn said Shively’s leadership has been “above average, if not exemplary” with the educational experience provided to all students improving across the board.
He added some board members are in preliminary conversations with the University of Kentucky’s Education and Civil Rights Initiative to potentially approve a contract, using money saved from Shively’s unpaid leave, to “facilitate a community-driven racial equity plan for the Paducah Public School District.” That plan could include an equity audit and improved recruitment of diverse employees.
Along with community feedback, the board also took into consideration the legal recourse Shively could have if they terminated him, including the Kentucky Commissioner of Education would have to approve the termination after review of Shively’s past performance and evaluations.
“The board acknowledges that there is no resolution that would satisfy everyone’s concerns and positions. This board reminds those that disagree with the outcome today that the board members were elected to make these difficult decisions and that in this instance, they did so only after spending hours debating and thoughtfully considering all options,” he said. “Just as the board has engaged in a sincere effort to respond to community concerns, we hope the community will reward that work by giving this plan a good-faith opportunity to succeed.”
Following the board’s statement, Shively delivered a statement of his own, saying that he doesn’t “just accept the board decision, I embrace the opportunity to learn and improve as a person.”
Shively again apologized for his poor judgement of that decision and apologized to the African-American community about the hurt he’s caused.
“I hope and pray that others see in me a deep commitment, a commitment from my heart, which is focused on ensuring that our students are successful not only in school, but in life,” Shively said. “I know the weeks and months ahead will be difficult for many people, including myself. But I want you all to know I’m committed to going through this process and becoming a better person in myself to ensure the success of each and every one of our 3,159 students and 461 employees in the community that I serve.”
The Paducah-McCracken County NAACP, which renewed calls for Shively’s resignation on Thursday, in a statement Saturday from chapter President J.W. Cleary said the chapter was "not happy" with the board's decision, but will work with the board because it's "not about us it's about our children."
For the one of the parents of students calling for Shively’s resignation, who has taken part in past protests, the action from the board is “laughable.”
“I honestly feel like the board did this as a means and a gesture to say, ‘We did something,’” Malinda Jones said. “He was deep enough in his career where he should have known better. This is a lot bigger than someone making a stupid, irrational decision to throw on a costume.”
Shively was a teacher and assistant football coach at Paducah Tilghman High School when the picture was said to be taken. Jones said that it’s “insensitive” to tell people of color to get over this situation, as some people are still going to protest because of the situation.
When asked if she will give the board’s plan a “good-faith opportunity” as suggested by LeBuhn, she said what Shively has done can’t be rectified.
“What does ‘give it a chance’ mean at this particular point? He’s done what he’s done,” she said.
She said she still isn’t satisfied with the superintendent’s apology, and still plans to call for his resignation moving forward.
See more of the board meeting with the full statements from Shively and the school board on the district’s Youtube page.
This story has been updated.