Watertown, New York teacher accused of making black students act as slaves in mock auction

Updated: May. 30, 2019 at 5:41 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A Watertown City School District teacher has been placed on administrative leave after being accused of making black students act as slaves in a mock auction as part of a lesson.

According to Nicole Dayes, the mother of one of the students, her fourth grade son told her the incident happened Tuesday at North Elementary School.

“He and another African American child were put up in the middle of the class and told they were now slaves,” the mother told us in an email. “The teacher then started the ‘bidding’ by assigning prices to the Caucasian students. After the winning bid was placed, my son was then told how slaves would take the slave owners last name and what he was to call the slave owner by. Then my son and the other ‘slave’ were instructed to call the Caucasian child by ‘master’ and the child’s last name.”

The school district said it has “received complaints from parents that a fourth grade teacher exercised poor judgment in teaching a recent lesson. The teacher has been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation into the matter.”

The district, which did not identify the teacher, said it will have no further comment until the investigation has been completed.

We spoke to families of students at the school Thursday afternoon; they said they are sickened and surprised by the incident.

“I was taken aback, shocked actually to think that a school would actually do something like that in today’s day and age. If it actually happened, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said David Ackley, father of a 4th grade student.

“I have a grandson that’s black and if it was him that was sold as a slave, I would’ve been right to school. My feelings on it - I do believe that the teacher should be fired,” said Dawn Finley, grandmother of students.

There have been reports of similar mock slave auctions in classes around the nation.

In March, CNN reports a teacher at a private school in Westchester County, New York, was accused of asking all of the African-American students in each class to raise their hands and then telling them to go stand in the hallway, where the teacher placed imaginary chains on their necks, wrists and ankles. Those students were then instructed to walk back into the classroom and line up against the wall, CNN reported.

According to the report, the teacher then conducted a simulated auction of the students in front of the rest of the class, in an attempt to depict the sale of enslaved Africans to white plantation owners that happened in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The teacher who conducted the lesson was fired, CNN reported.

An investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office found that the reenactment had a “profoundly negative effect on all of the students present -- especially the African-American students.”

“Every young person -- regardless of race -- deserves the chance to attend school free of harassment, bias, and discrimination,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Lessons designed to separate children on the basis of race have no place in New York classrooms, or in classrooms throughout this country.”

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