A new billboard in a western Kentucky town calls for the termination of a local school district superintendent after an old photo of the school official in blackface resurfaced. 

The billboard in Paducah, Kentucky shows a picture of Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Donald Shively in blackface and states “race is not a costume.” The billboard is paid for by a Louisville civil rights organization, All of Us or None, and a group of local parents of students and community members calling for Shively’s termination. 

The Ohio Valley ReSource previously reported the photo resurfaced in October. Shively said the photo is from a Halloween party in 2002 when he was a teacher and football coach at the local high school. The photo shows Shively in blackface, wearing a durag and gold chains, and wearing a high school football t-shirt. Protests by parents and community members have embroiled the small town for weeks, with some protests staged in front of the high school.

“We wanted the billboard to bring more awareness to what’s going on and that he needs to be terminated,” said Tracey Lenox, one of the parents involved. “We wanted to apply pressure to the board of education. We’re not going anywhere. The 40-day suspension that they handed down to him is laughable.” 

In a hastily-called special meeting Friday the Paducah Board of Education directed Shively to take 40 days of unpaid leave to seek professional development and to reach out to the community to regain trust in his leadership. Board Chair Carl LeBuhn said part of the salary saved from Shively’s leave will fund an “equity audit” of the district, led by the University of Kentucky’s Education and Civil Rights Initiative. 

Lenox also said she wondered about the timing of the board’s special meeting in regards to the launching of the billboard. She said the billboard was planned about a month in advance and that the billboard company contacted Shively to verify the photo featured in the billboard was him, in order to avoid potential legal repercussions. 

“But by them contacting Dr. Shively and the board, we feel like they rushed that special meeting to try to take away from the billboard,” she said. 

The Paducah-McCracken County NAACP, which is calling for Shively’s resignation, said in a statement that the chapter was not involved with the creation of the billboard but “acknowledge the frustration of the parents who have students in the school system.” 

The local chapter is planning on working with the school board on a solution forward that’s “best for students,” but said it is still calling on the board to enact a list of previous demands, including an “full independent cultural audit” of the district. 

Paducah Board of Education Chair Carl LeBuhn and Superintendent Donald Shively did not respond to requests for comment. Lenox said the billboard will remain into the new year.