Watertown School District reaches agreement with Attorney General in simulated slave auction case

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(Markus Spiske / Unsplash)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — The Watertown City School District Board of Education has reached an agreement with the New York State Attorney General’s Office about a slave auction held in a fourth grade classroom last year.

On May 31, 2019, the Office of the Attorney General commenced an investigation of the Watertown City School District regarding the incident.

The investigation revealed that on May 28, 2019 a fourth grade teacher at the school district instructed a Black boy and girl to come to the front of the room for a simulated slave auction.

According to the letter of agreement between the district and the Attorney General’s office, the two students were instructed to place their hands behind their backs as they would have “in slave times.”

The teacher called out numbers and instructed students in the class to bid on the two African American students. According to the letter, the teacher instructed the two students to refer to their “winning bidders” as “masters.”

The investigation did not reveal evidence that the teacher acted with approval from the school district. The teacher was placed on administrative leave upon the district learning of the simulated slave auction and has since resigned.

The investigation found that the teacher’s reenactment had negative effects on all the students present during the incident, especially the two students the teacher chose to act as slaves.

The agreement between the Watertown City School District and the New York State Attorney General’s Office resolved the complaints concerning the matter.

“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,” Watertown City School District Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr said.

“In particular, the District has taken appropriate measures with respect to the former teacher, has interviewed all parents and various students affected by the incident, and has implemented additional training for students and staff.  The District and the New York State Attorney General’s Office have mutually agreed  to designate a chief diversity officer and a diversity consultant.”

“The District had, prior to this incident, established an anti-harassment discrimination policy and program.  The District has also expanded various programs for behavioral support and has established rewarding positive behavior programs, to include Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and the Positivity Project,” LaBarr said.

The superintendent said they look forward to their continued work in fostering an atmosphere of inclusion and the support of diversity within the Watertown City School District.

Take a look at the full letter from the Attorney General’s office:

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