Paducah Superintendent interviews with local television station about racially-insensitive Halloween photo
Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Donald Shively
This afternoon, Wednesday, October 21, Superintendent of Paducah Public Schools Donald Shively spoke with reporters from WPSD regarding a blackface picture of Shively and a woman at a Halloween party in 2002. Both were dressed in caricature figures; Shively with a gold chain around his neck and a Tilghman football shirt and the women with an Afro hairstyle and padded behind.
After the Halloween photo surfaced Tuesday morning, it didn’t take long for social media to reach 270 shares on Facebook. Shively reached out to the television station asking to be interviewed in order to create a dialogue to discuss the picture and to apologize and ask forgiveness.
The interview was approximately 45 minutes in length and may still be available on WPSD’s website. During the interview, Shively stated that indeed the photograph is from a Halloween party from the early 2000’s while a teacher at Paducah Tilghman High School. He said, “What you see is horrible, racially insensitive, and hurtful to our African American community. For that, I want to sincerely apologize for that decision.” He continued, “It happened two decades ago and I ask for forgiveness, and I hope and pray for grace.”
Shively said that every aspect of how you live your life can show up. He said “that’s not where my heart is or where my heart has been.”
It was revealed that Shively reported the photograph to the board members of Paducah Public Schools in February 2019, almost two years ago. He said, “things in the national media” was what spurred him on to disclose the presence of the picture. “It was one instance...I had gone to a Halloween party dressed like that.” National media (regarding racist photos) jogged his memory that he had made that same mistake.
Paducah Public Schools Board Chairman Dr. Carl Lebuhn released a statement today saying that the board was notified by Shively in February of 2019 that the photo existed. Though the board didn’t condone the use of blackface and found it deeply offensive, they ultimately decided that Shively’s commitment to ensuring equity to all students is more telling than an incident that happened almost two decades ago.
(See Dr. Lebuhn's statement at the bottom of the article).
Shively said, “I hope to not be judged on one photo but are judged on a lifetime of actions of how you treat other people and of what you do to make other people’s lives better.”
In a school system with a student population that’s 40% black, the question on everyone’s mind is how will this play out for Shively? Shively said he wanted to create a dialogue about the incident, that’s the reason why he contacted the television station. He is asking for forgiveness and wants to continue to do what’s best for each and every child. He would like the students, administration, and the public to “weigh in on what they’ve seen for 24 years when they look at that photo.”
Paducah/McCracken County NAACP President J.W. Cleary is calling for Shively’s resignation. Cleary said he realizes the photo was taken in 2002 but, “Racism, however, has no expiration date.”
J.W. Cleary’s statement:
We have been made aware of the recent surfacing of a disturbing image of the Paducah Public Schools Superintendent dressed in blackface. The NAACP has long been committed to fighting discrimination and this situation is no different. We are aware that the superintendent has offered an apology and that the photograph in question was allegedly taken in 2002. Racism, however, has no expiration date. We are deeply saddened and discouraged by this. This is a terrible representation of leadership and a horrendous breach of the trust of students, parents, and staff.
Blackface is a deplorably racist and offensive characterization of African-Americans. Paducah Public Schools has a student body that is largely African-American. What message does this convey to employees, students, and their families? We acknowledge that a public apology is necessary, but in an era of such racial animus it is important that we hold accountable those who are in leadership for such a disregard of racial sensitivity and respect for African-Americans. We therefore call for the immediate resignation of Dr. Donald Shively as superintendent of Paducah Public Schools. It is unfortunate that in 2020 we still have to deal with such an offense, and we hope that going forward Paducah Public Schools will select leadership that is understanding and sensitive to the diversity of it’s student body.
Before the television interview, Shively did release a statement Tuesday evening apologizing to the African American community. But he went on record today during the interview saying, “I didn’t just want to give a statement or hide behind a piece of paper...I wanted dialogue.” Shively continued, “I wanted to be honest and lead with my heart.”
Shively’s career began as a science teacher at Paducah Tilghman High School and continued from 1997 to 2004. He also served as assistant principal, athletic director and an assistant football coach during this period. He was Ballard Memorial High School’s principal from 2004 to 2011. He became assistant superintendent for Paducah Public Schools in 2011 and Superintendent in 2014 to present.
Dr. Carl Lebuhn's statement: