Paducah schools superintendent releases statement after photo of him in blackface surfaces; NAACP calls for his resignation

Superintendent to meet with NAACP

PADUCAH, Ky. (KFVS) - A western Kentucky superintendent issued a statement after an offensive photo of him surfaced.

Dr. Donald Shively issued a statement on the school website on Monday, October 26.

He said when the photo surfaced last week he issued a sincere and heartfelt apology to the public and then face-to-face with several groups. He said he knows much more is needed to make amends.

Shively said one of his first actions was to request a meeting with the leadership of the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP. He said that meeting will happen soon.

In addition, he said he has started dialogue with students, district staff and leaders of the African American community, which he plans to continue with Paducah citizens.

"When that old and terribly offensive photo surfaced last week, I issued a sincere and heartfelt apology for its racially insensitive content, first to the public and then face-to-face with several groups, but I know much more is needed to make amends and start a healing process for all in our community hurt by the photo.

"One of my first actions was to request a meeting with the leadership of the Paducah/McCracken County NAACP. Thankfully, this meeting will happen soon. In addition, I have started dialogue with students, district staff and leaders in our African American community, which I plan to continue with citizens of our city at large.

“My goal is that this extensive process not only will help me to grow as a person and as a leader, but that it also will serve as a catalyst for improved understanding, sensitivity and racial harmony in our community. I believe that through this dialogue Paducah Public Schools will become a model school district for anti-racist practices and actions. To be clear, this process will lead to an action plan for our school district developed through critical conversations with every stakeholder to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.”

On October 20, the NAACP called on the superintendent of Paducah Public Schools to resign after a photo from 2002 of him in blackface surfaced.

According to the NAACP in a statement, they are aware the superintendent has offered an apology and 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," the Paducah-McCracken Co. NAACP said in the statement.

The group said Paducah Public Schools has a student body that is largely African-American.

They said they acknowledge that a public apology is necessary, but believe it’s important to hold those in leadership positions accountable.

Read the full statement from NAACP below.

The Paducah Public Schools Board of Education responded to the photo circulating on social media.

The Board acknowledged the photo circulating shows Dr. Donald Shively, then a teacher at Paducah Tilghman High School and now superintendent, in blackface.

An old photo of Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donald Shively in blackface resurfaced recently.
An old photo of Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donald Shively in blackface resurfaced recently. (Source: Tonya Reed)

Superintendent Shively issued this statement on Wednesday, October 21:

"I sincerely apologize for a choice I made several years ago. It was a terrible mistake, for which I take full responsibility and ask for your forgiveness. I make no excuses. What I did in 2002 was deeply hurtful to African-Americans and our entire district, and I deeply regret it.

"The photo is not representative of my opinions and beliefs, or of the decisions we have made as a school board and superintendent. I have spent my career here focused on helping every child develop a vision for their life, and I am still personally committed to being the best person I can be for others and learning from my mistakes.

"I am listening intently to members of our African-American community with the goal of creating new partnerships and initiatives in the days ahead to strengthen our commitment ‘for each and every child.’

“Our goal is to use this as a teaching moment to further foster racial harmony in our community.”

Dr. Carl LeBuhn, chairman of the Paducah Public Schools Board of Education, said in a statement that Dr. Donald Shively self-reported the photo in February 2019 and said it was taken more than 15 years ago.

He said Shively told him of the photo a few days before the meeting, and the Board held an executive session to discuss it. He said all members of the Board of Education attended the meeting, including himself, Dr. Felix Akojie, Mary Hunter Hancock, Janice Howard and Dr. James Hudson.

After hearing from Shively during the executive session, Dr. LeBuhn said all members of the Board expressed or agreed that, “while the costume was offensive and inappropriate, Dr. Shively’s demonstrated attitude and actions, dedication to the district and commitment to ensuring equity for all students are more telling of his character and racial attitudes that an incident from almost two decades ago.”

He said at that time, the review in 2019, no discipline or action was proposed or taken by the Board.

You can read Dr. LeBuhn’s full statement below.

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