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Posted: March 14, 2017

Elementary school apologizes after students asked to make slave auction posters

A student completes her work in a 2010 photo taken in Bristol, England. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
A student completes her work in a 2010 photo taken in Bristol, England. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

By Crystal Bonvillian

Cox Media Group National Content Desk

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. —

Officials at a New Jersey school district have apologized for a fifth-grade history assignment that had students making slave auction posters that were then hung up around their school.

The superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District issued an apology following a backlash from parents, according to WABC-TV in New York. Students at South Mountain Elementary School were studying colonial America when they were asked to draw examples of events that would have occurred during their assigned colonial time period.

The assignment included “a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction,” the news station reported.

One student who drew a poster for a slave auction included, for sale, “Anne, aged 12 years, a fine house girl,” “Edwin, aged 24 years, a great hunter” and “Sam, aged 18 years, a field (sic) hand.”

Another student drew a “Wanted” poster for a slave accused of stealing food and money. It listed a reward for the female slave’s capture.

The students who drew “Wanted” posters included images of people with brown skin.

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Some parents and community members took offense to the lesson. Jamil Karriem, who posted photos of the posters to his Facebook page, wrote that it was “completely lost on (him)” how the project was effective at teaching students American history.

“These images were on display for all students (ages ranging from 4-10) to see, including those that would lack any context of the underlying 'lesson' or 'purpose,'” Karriem wrote. “Educating young students on the harsh realities of slavery is, of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent.”

He urged parents to contact school and district officials and included the email addresses of the superintendent, the board member representing the school and the school principal.

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Parent Glenn Conover told WABC-TV that he thought the posters were disrespectful to the black students in the school. Caregiver Andrea Espinoza disagreed.

“It’s part of history, of course,” Espinoza told the news station. “It happened. I think it’s good that they know.”

Dr. John Ramos Sr., superintendent of the school district, told WABC-TV that the assignment was part of a colonial America lesson unit that’s been in place for a decade. He said, however, that the district recognizes that the slave auction posters, while historically relevant, were “culturally insensitive.”

“We certainly understand and respect the strong reaction which some parents had to seeing slave auction posters included with other artwork from the assignment," Ramos said in a statement to CNN. "We are rethinking the Colonial America Project for next year, and will eliminate the example of a slave auction poster.”

The posters have been removed from the hallways of the school.


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