CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — A teacher at a failing school where he and all his colleagues are being fired hung an effigy of President Barack Obama in his classroom, apparently in reaction to Obama’s support of extreme measures to ensure accountability in schools.
The teachers union on Thursday condemned the effigy, discovered Monday in the teacher’s third-floor classroom at Central Falls High School, saying it was wrong and cannot be condoned under any circumstances.
The effigy was found in the teacher’s classroom by Superintendent Frances Gallo, Rhode Island Department of Education spokeswoman Nicole Shaffer told The Associated Press. Shaffer said the department would not have any further comment.
Gallo told the AP on Thursday evening that the foot-tall Obama doll that she saw Monday was hung from its feet from a white board and was holding a sign that said, “Fire Central Falls teachers.”
“I was deeply saddened,” Gallo said. “It’s a horrific – a startling – kind of picture when you walk in and see that.”
She said that the teacher had been issued a “strong letter of reprimand” and that she considered it an internal matter.
Obama had called the firings in Central Falls an example of holding failing schools accountable. The White House declined to comment Thursday. U.S. Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said the agency was aware of the doll but declined to comment further.
The president of the Central Falls Teachers Union, Jane Sessums, said in a written statement that the teacher, whose name wasn’t disclosed, hung the doll “as part of what he described as a lesson plan.”
A spokesman for the union said he could not immediately explain what that meant. He said he did not know how long the effigy had been in the classroom.
The union has been fighting the firings at Central Falls High School, one of the state’s worst-performing schools.
All the school’s teachers, administrators and support staff will lose their jobs after the end of the school year. Under a plan approved by the state to improve the school, fewer than half could be rehired next year.
Sessums said the teacher who hung the effigy verbally apologized to his students and asked Gallo if he could also apologize in writing.
“He understands that his actions affect not just his students but all of us,” she wrote. “There is no excuse for what he did.”
Several students and recent graduates interviewed by the AP on Thursday said they hadn’t heard about the effigy, which was hung in an area of the school that’s used for the English as a second language program. Those interviewed said they hadn’t heard anyone expressing anger about Obama’s comments, but many were disappointed.
“A lot of teachers supported Obama,” said Karen Zuniga, who graduated last year and started a Facebook group to protest the firings.
“He hasn’t even been here,” said Jonathan Beltran, another 2009 graduate who opposes the firings. “He doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Senior Valerie Florez said emotions have been running high among the school’s teachers, with some telling students the firings are unfair and at least one breaking down in tears during class.