Massachusetts teacher on leave after holding mock slave auction, using N-word in class, school district says

Jun 1, 2024, 12:29 PM

Books sit on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Friday, 18, 2023. Altho...

Books sit on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Friday, 18, 2023. Although not new, book challenges have surged in public schools since 2020, part of a broader backlash to what kids read and discuss in school. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

(AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

(CNN) — A Massachusetts teacher who staged a mock slave auction and used the N-word in a 5th-grade class has been placed on leave, according to a letter sent to parents by the school’s superintendent.

The incidents took place at Margaret Neary Elementary School, according to CNN affiliate WCVB, and were reported to Gregory Martineau, superintendent of the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough, in April. The school district is about 30 miles west of Boston.

In January, the teacher – who is not named in the letter – held an “impromptu mock slave auction” during a lesson on the Atlantic triangle slave trade, during which slave auctions were discussed, the letter said.

“The educator asked two children sitting in front of the room, who were of color, to stand, and the educator and class discussed physical attributes (i.e., teeth and strength),” Martineau said.

The second incident took place in April, and in that instance, the same educator used the N-word while reading a book, which was not part of the fifth-grade curriculum, to students, the letter said.

“It was later brought to the District’s attention that the ‘N-word’ does not appear in the book,” Martineau said. “Dehumanizing words such as slurs should not be spoken by employees or students. Using such words can harm students and negatively impact an open discussion on a particular topic.”

Martineau also condemned the teacher’s actions in holding a mock slave auction, calling the action “unacceptable” and a violation of the district’s core values. He also noted the damaging impact that such role-playing methods in lessons on historical atrocities or trauma can have on students of color.

Parents of students in the class met with the teacher and the principal to discuss the two incidents in April, but the next day, Martineau said the teacher “inappropriately called out the student who had reported the educator’s use of the racial slur, which is not acceptable.”

That is when the district began a formal investigation, and the teacher was placed on paid administrative leave, the letter said. The school’s principal was placed on a 10-day paid administrative leave in May.

“Currently, the District is engaged in due process procedures with the educator who remains on leave. All personnel matters will remain confidential,” Martineau said.

Martineau went on to apologize for the events that took place at the school and said the district’s “cultural competency” will improve.

“I acknowledge that there were missteps in this process that further complicated the situation. Ultimately, I am responsible for ensuring students are in safe and supportive learning environments,” he said.

CNN has reached out to the school and to the school district for further comment.

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Massachusetts teacher on leave after holding mock slave auction, using N-word in class, school district says