New Jersey School Apologizes For Slavery Auction Assignment To Students

Teaching the perils of America’s darkest point can be a large feat, but parents at a New Jersey school weren’t impressed that students were assigned to recreate slave posters.

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The Huffington Post reports the assignment sparked public outcry last week when parents discovered their children from South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, New Jersey assigned fifth graders to illustrate a moment in the period they were assigned. “Examples of an event that would occur during (your) assigned colonial time period, including a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction,” Superintendent John Ramos said. The assignment has reportedly been apart of the school’s curriculum for ten years, ABC 7 added.

One parent noticed the posters at a student-teacher conference on Tuesday (March 7) and posted them to Facebook. One poster listed available slaves while another depicted a 12-year-old as “a fine housegirl” and another as a runaway slave.

While some parents were in favor of the assignment, many believed there could be other ways to educate children about slavery rather than recreate it. “SOMSD is committed to infus[ing] cultural competency in every aspect of our learning community,” Ramos said after the outcry. Ramos, along with the rest of the school board will now determine if the assignment is appropriate for children. “As part of this never-ending process, it is important that we reflect on the unintended effects of our curriculum, instruction, and interactions. Having reflected on the concerns shared with us, we have decided to remove the slave auction posters from South Mountain hallways, and we apologize for any unintended offense or hardship this activity has caused.”

South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Elizabeth noted to parents Sunday (March 11) their plans to include diversity in their system. “We understand that celebrating diversity is not the same as embracing it, and that the adoption of policies is only one step,” the statement reads. “We all acknowledge that there are significant hurdles and historic inequities that are embedded in institutions at every level. We have much more, intensely difficult and self-reflective, work to do as we examine and correct decades of individual and institutional, explicit and implicit bias. As a community, we must not only recognize the resulting manifestations and harm, but work together with honesty and diligence towards solutions.”

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