Teacher who held a 'mock slave auction' placed on paid administrative leave

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A Massachusetts elementary school teacher was placed on paid administrative leave after two incidents the district described as “disproportionately traumatic for students of color,” including a “mock slave auction.”

Gregory Martineau, superintendent of the Southborough school district, wrote to parents last week that the incidents occurred in a fifth-grade class in January and April.

During a class lesson about the triangle slave trade, the unnamed teacher impromptu asked two Black students to stand in front of the class as the class discussed their physical attributes in a “mock slave auction.”

“Holding a mock slave auction is unacceptable and violates the District’s core values,” Martineau wrote. “Simulations or role plays when teaching about historical atrocities or trauma are not appropriate, and these teaching methods are not to be used.”

In a second incident this year, the teacher used the N-word in discussions about a book, even though the book itself did not contain the slur, Martineau said.

After concerned parents met with the teacher, the teacher then called out a student who complained of the behavior in front of the entire class. 

The teacher was placed on administrative leave early last month, and an investigation is ongoing, Martineau said.

“I apologize for the events that took place in The Public Schools of Southborough,” he wrote. “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.”

The district, about a half-hour west of Boston, is 63 percent white and 3% Black, according to the district profile.

Parent Meghan Cifuentes, whose son was in the class, told WBUR that she learned of the incidents when her son told her that the teacher said “a bad word” in class.

“Never was I expecting the N-word to come out of his mouth,” Cifuentes said. “If you’re going to use that word with 10 and 11 year-olds, there needs to be a heavy discussion of what the word is, why it was used and what it means — just some background information.”

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