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Suspension lifted for OPRF teacher, congressional candidate

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Anthony Clark, who was placed on leave after posting a blackface photo to Facebook, resumes his teaching position.

Kevin Williams

OAK PARK | The Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher put on paid administrative leave in early October for posting to Facebook a Snapchat photo of a student in blackface, was reinstated last week.

District 200 had prepared for a large attendance during a committee of the whole meeting on Oct. 17, on behalf of Anthony Clark, moving the meeting from the board room to a larger space on the same floor, but fewer than 10 people showed up.

During the meeting Jackie Moore, board president, re-emphasized that Clark’s suspension was not disciplinary related and that it was a measure taken to “ensure that the rights of all parties are protected while the district is reviewing this incident. Please know that securing a safe and healthy learning environment for the students is the district’s highest priority.”

John Duffy, a well-known Oak Park activist, read a statement in support of Clark. “In intervening with the student, I believe teacher Anthony Clark acted in pursuing a vision members of this administration and board have professed a newly found belief in – a philosophy, and commitment to the process and protocols of restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions as a substitute for our traditional lock step punitive approaches to student infractions of school rules and policies,” Duffy stated.

On Oct. 8, a 17-year-old white senior at OPRF posted a selfie to Snapchat wearing a black charcoal exfoliating mask with the caption, “Vote me for BLU president. BLU is the acronym for Black Leaders Union.” Within a few hours after posting, the teenager removed the post down and issued an apology, but a screenshot image of the photo, along with the words ‘hi racism!’ scrawled by someone else, had been circulated numerous times.

Clark said that he re-posted the photo to Facebook in an effort to diffuse the growing outrage. Clark has said that he did not know the person in the photo was of an OPRF student and that, after he discovered the photo was a student, and one he knew, he removed the post.

On Oct. 10, Clark was placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation of the incident. In a statement released by, Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, District 200 Supt., Pruitt-Adams indicated that Clark may have violated the district’s social media policy.

The student was suspended on Oct. 12 following an apology. “I want to make sure that everyone knows how I feel, that I’m very regretful and would love to learn from this experience,” the student said, adding that he doesn’t consider himself a victim. “People’s anger is justified. I did not check my white privilege. I did not think about what I posted. There’s no excuse. I did this and I take responsibility for my actions.”

Kennedy Holliday, president, Black Leaders Union and Sydney Rayburn, president, Student Council President stated that many students were “hurt and angry” about the Snapchat post, adding that some students expressed wanting to post a copy of the photo with the student’s address.

“We understand these feelings,” the leaders stated. “But acting on them solves nothing. Instead of lashing out at an individual, we ask that our community instead focus on the much bigger issue of institutional racism.”

The student said that he has marched with Clark during anti-racism demonstrations and has even volunteered on the teacher’s campaign for Congress. Earlier this year, Clark, who founded the nonprofit Suburban Unity Alliance, announced in a statement to the West Suburban Journal in May that he would be running against U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) in the 2018 election.

The student’s family said they were supportive of Clark’s actions taken in the wake of the Snapchat post. In a statement, the mother of the student said that Clark “has supported our student and our family during a very difficult time.”

Clark’s suspension also ignited into action his ground swell of supporters. One proponent created a Change.org petition that urged the district to reinstate the teacher. The petition garnered more than 5,600 signatures. Last Saturday, a group of Clark’s supporters marched from the Oak Park Public Library to the Oak Park Farmers Market, in the cold and pouring rain, to demonstrate their support for Clark.

Clark is the 7th District congressional pick of the Brand New Congress. The Brand New Congress is an American political action committee formed by former staffers and supporters of the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign to elect hundreds of new Congressional representatives in line with the campaign’s political platform. The group attended the July 2016 Democratic National Convention to canvass for support in protester sites and throughout the city. As of that time, the group had raised $85,000, about 90 percent of which were small donations. Its email list contained 20,000 addresses. In March 2017, Brand New Congress announced that they teamed up with Justice Democrats to further their goals. As of June 9, 2017, there are twelve candidates officially endorsed by Brand New Congress and ten by Justice Democrats. The Brand New Congress will commence its nationwide Brand New Summit on Nov 17 in Washington D.C. For information on Anthony Clark and the Brand New Congress visit: http://brandnewcongress.org/anthony-clark/.

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