Slavery Lesson Goes Awry: Was It Educator Misconduct? By Levine & Slavit PLLC on December 05, 2008

A white seventh-grade social studies teacher teaching a lesson about slavery attempted to simulate the conditions by which African natives were transported in slave ships by binding the hands and feet of two black girls with tape and having them crawl under a desk. It happened in Haverstraw Middle School in Haverstraw, New York of the North Rockland School District. It not clear whether the girls volunteered for their role in the lesson, but it does not seem very likely that the students felt that they had much choice to refuse their teacher’s request that they participate in being bound. The girls were not the only blacks in the class.Imagine how embarrassed the girls must have been in front of their classmates. More so, how could their teacher not have imagined the girls’ embarrassment, particularly when she appeared to be so interested in having her class be able to empathize with the plight of actual slaves? But what seems most disturbing is the reaction of the school district’s superintendent. According to the Associated Press, district Superintendent Brian Monahan said, "If a student was upset, then it was a bad idea." "We encourage our teachers to deliver the curriculum in a variety of ways, to go beyond just reading the textbook. We don't want to discourage creativity. But this obviously went wrong because the student was upset." Could he really have meant to say that it was only a bad idea because the student was upset? One of the girls, Gabrielle Shand, burst into tears at home, her mother said. She has missed time from school from being upset and embarrassed. The teacher apologized to the mother who complained and her 13-year-old daughter during a meeting December 4, 2008, that also included a representative of the local NAACP. But the mother, Christine Shand, said she thinks the teacher should be removed from the class because otherwise her daughter would have to switch classes in order to avoid having to attend a class in which she would be uncomfortable. As of now, the teacher is still working. The school district said she was not available for comment. Shand told the Associated Press that she had not decided whether to take any further action, including filing a lawsuit.

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