Shelby County school principal under fire after using 'mock funeral' to inspire teachers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Pictures of a baby doll in a basket from a “mock funeral” were just part of activities to inspire teachers at one Shelby County school to improve test scores.

However, some teachers are upset and their union called the idea disgraceful.

It all happened at Getwell Elementary School.

The principal wanted the teachers to work harder to help students learn better. The idea fell flat.

The first picture seems odd but perhaps well intended. It is a flyer with a student holding a report card with the heading that reads, "In loving memory of Ms. 2 to 3 years behind."

Other pictures FOX13 obtained show what appears to look like a casket and memorial.

It is actually a basket and inside is a baby doll. And teachers at Getwell Elementary School told the Shelby County Teachers Association that is what they saw when the principal invited them to a meeting.

"That is an insult to those people,” said Keith Williams, executive director of the Shelby County Teachers Association. “It is an insult to invite me back for the first day for a funeral."

Williams said he was told the intention of the meeting was to inspire teachers to help raise test scores. While Getwell Elementary does need to improve its scores, teachers weren't impressed by the method of inspiration.

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According to Public School Review, the elementary school scored at the bottom 50-percent for math and reading in 2015 in the state of Tennessee.

"Her point was, she was saying is we are burying the data. And she used the song ‘Children Are Our Future,’" said Williams.

Williams said teachers told him the principal instructed them to act as if they were in mourning. The event should have been a moment to inspire.

According to Williams, it backfired because "some of the teachers who recently had challenges with child birth were overwhelmed and just left the room.  Some of them are off today because of it."

FOX13 called Getwell Elementary to ask the principal for an explanation, but she never returned our calls.

The administration emailed FOX13 to say the event was designed to renew the focus and commitment of staff members in the new year.

After hearing complaints, the principal acknowledged the activity could be seen as insensitive and apologized.

"Burying a child symbolically as a way of improving instruction, something is wrong with you," said Williams.

Shelby County School Board Member Miska Bibbs issued an emailed response to the incident:

"Unfortunately, something that was supposed to be used as a lighthearted demonstration was not received in the manner it was intended.  I do not think that whoever planned the event was mindful of the fact that Death and Anything involving children being portrayed in a hurtful manner is acceptable. I understand the response of those who were offended. I am aware that SCS administration has talked to all involved. I hope that this type of event will not be used as a demonstration again."