WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The state’s investigation into a mock slave auction that happened last year at a Watertown elementary school is over and changes are coming to the Watertown City School District. Meanwhile, the teacher at the heart of the probe is speaking out for the first time.
The state Attorney General’s letter (read it at the bottom of this story) backs up what parents told us last year about what happened in a 4th grade social studies class at North Elementary. That class, as we reported back then, was taught by Patricia Bailey, who was placed on administrative leave and then retired.
The state’s investigation starts by saying the teacher’s social studies lesson on May 28, 2019 was unrelated to slavery, but during that class, the teacher called up an African American boy and girl to the front of the room and had other students in the room start bidding on them.
The letter states the teacher instructed the African American students to refer to their winning bidders as “masters.”
In a statement released by Bailey’s attorney (read the full statement below), Bailey says the lesson was an introduction to the unit plan on slavery and that she never asked any student to refer to another student as “master.”
She said she was never contacted by the AG’s Office or the board of education to tell her side of the story.
“I am heartbroken to read these distortions of the truth which disparage me and have discredited my career in this process,” Bailey said in the statement
Meanwhile, the state said it found the reenactment “had a profoundly negative effect on all students present, especially the African American students.”
Now the AG’s office wants to see the school district take some steps as part of an agreement.
Chief among them - hiring or designating a current employee as its chief diversity officer - a selection that will need the AG’s approval.
Part of the job will be “developing a culturally sensitive curriculum...to teach students about slavery and the contribution of African Americans to American history.”
The district will also need to revise and update its code of conduct.
According to the AG’s letter, the district disputes that its current code of conduct is in “any matter deficient, improper or unlawful.”
In addition, the district will, at its own expense, need to identify a third-party diversity consultant for AG approval.
The letter acknowledges the district is already working with consultants in this area and will continue to do so.
It’s not the only measure the district has implemented; it already reported Bailey to the state Education Department Licensing Authority, took steps to counsel affected students, and had additional training and measures to make sure another incident like this doesn’t happen again.
“We are heartened to announce that the New York State Attorney General’s Office has approved many of the steps that the school district has already taken on its own initiative, many of which were already in place before the incident occurred,” district Superintendent Patti LaBarr said in a separate statement.
The letter also states the AG’s investigation didn’t reveal evidence suggesting the school district permitted the mock slave auction.
Bailey has since retired. Her lawyer has been in contact with us.
Late Monday afternoon, Bailey’s attorney issued the following statement:
Patricia Bailey worked for the Watertown City School District as an elementary school teacher for 36 years. She had an unblemished record right up until the time of the incident on May 28, 2019 and her resignation, which was submitted in early May, 2019 for the purpose of retirement. She was loved by parents and students, many of whom requested her as their children's teacher and whom sought her support and guidance over the years. Ms. Bailey is truly saddened that her actions on one particular day in her 36 year teaching career are now being used by some to tarnish her good reputation. She is saddened if the topic on that particular day was disturbing to anyone. Slavery is an uncomfortable discussion for everyone. It was never her intention to have a negative effect on any of her students. She took great pride in her work and considered herself fortunate to be able to have a positive impact on so many students during her career.
Upon reading the letter agreement between the Office of the Attorney General ("OAG") and the school district, Ms. Bailey is completely supportive of many of the requirements imposed by the OAG on the school district. She applauds the OAG for mandating these requirements.
Ms. Bailey was disturbed, however, to see that the letter agreement continued to recount the event of May 28, 2019 inaccurately. She states “I’m surprised I was never contacted by the OAG or the Board of Education to get the facts straight. They concluded their investigation without talking to me, or even asking to talk to me.” She states that many of the claims in the letter are factually inaccurate. For example, she states that the lesson on May 28, 2019 was an introduction to the unit plan on slavery, although the letter agreement claims the lesson that day was unrelated to slavery. She also never asked any student to refer to another student as “master”, as claimed in the letter agreement. She did explain to the students that slaves would lose their name and would take the name of the slave owner, and were often required to call them “master”, which is factually accurate. Ms. Bailey states: “I am heartbroken to read these distortions of the truth which disparage me and have discredited my career in this process.” She concludes by stating: “I was always honored to educate the children in my community.”
Below is the full letter from the AG’s Office: