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New Jersey School Official Apologizes After Students Were Asked to Make Slave Auction Posters

By Victor Trammell

Photo credits: Jamil Karriem

The superintendent of a school district in the U.S. state of New Jersey has issued a public apology after an inflammatory incident involving race at a school in the South Orange-Maplewood area.

According to CNN, fifth graders at South Mountain Elementary School were instructed by their teacher to do a controversial assignment, which involved the study of America’s colonial era. The students were asked to make posters, which advertised slave auctions, as well as mock wanted posters that advertised bounties on the heads of escaped slaves.

Parents voiced their complaints about this situation and expressed that they felt it was racially divisive for a teacher to assign such a lesson to fifth-graders. Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr., the superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District issued a statement to CNN condemning the actions. His statement partially reads as follows:

“While it was not our intention, we recognize that the example of a slave auction poster, although historically relevant, was 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. We are rethinking the Colonial America Project for next year, and will eliminate the example of a slave auction poster.” (CNN)

Jamil Karriem, (a black man) is a parent of a child at South Mountain Elementary. Karriem posted pictures on Facebook of the inflammatory posters that were plastered on school walls. “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 in a Facebook message.

“It is COMPLETELY lost on me how this project could be an effective way to teach any student in any age group about American history,” he continued.

Some parents argued that such an assignment was necessary in order to truthfully teach students about the societal norms of colonial America. However, CNN did not report whether or not any disciplinary action had been taken against the teacher who gave the fifth-graders the assignment.

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