Fifth-grade teacher placed on paid leave after using racist slur and holding ‘mock slave auction’ in class

The principal of the elementary school was also on paid leave for more than a week as officials investigated the incidents

Katie Hawkinson
Sunday 02 June 2024 16:53 BST
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A fifth-grade teacher at Margaret A Neary Elementary School, pictured, is on paid leave after using a racist slur and forcing students to participate in a ‘mock slave trade'
A fifth-grade teacher at Margaret A Neary Elementary School, pictured, is on paid leave after using a racist slur and forcing students to participate in a ‘mock slave trade' (Google Maps)

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A Massachusetts elementary school teacher is on paid leave after using a racist slur and forcing her students to participate in a mock auction of enslaved people.

The unnamed fifth-grade teacher at Margaret A Neary Elementary School in Southborough, Massachusetts is now under investigation, according to Gregory Martineau, superintendent of the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough.

The first incident took place in January when the fifth-grade educator held an “impromptu mock slave auction” during a class about the historical trade of enslaved people across the Atlantic.

“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),” Mr Martineau wrote in a statement about the incidents.

In a separate incident in April, Mr Martineau said the teacher used the n-word while reading a book out loud to students. The text, however, did not contain the slur and was not an approved part of the fifth-grade curriculum, according to Mr Martineau.

A fifth-grade teacher at Margaret A Neary Elementary School, pictured, is on paid leave after using a racist slur and forcing students to participate in a ‘mock slave trade'
A fifth-grade teacher at Margaret A Neary Elementary School, pictured, is on paid leave after using a racist slur and forcing students to participate in a ‘mock slave trade' (Google Maps)

“Dehumanizing words such as slurs should not be spoken by employees or students,” the superintendent wrote. “Using such words can harm students and negatively impact an open discussion on a particular topic.”

The teacher also retaliated against the student who reported the use of the racist slur, “inappropriately” calling out the student after parents, the principal and the educator had a meeting to discuss the two incidents. Mr Martineau called this response “unacceptable.”

Now, the educator is being investigated while on paid leave. The school’s principal, Kathleen Valenti was also placed on paid leave from 6 May to 16 May, Mr Martineau said.

“I apologize for the events that took place in The Public Schools of Southborough,” the superintendent wrote. “I acknowledge that there were missteps in this process that further complicated the situation.”

In response to these incidents, the school district will be creating a “professional development plan focusing on culturally competent pedagogy that will be implemented in the fall,” Mr Martineau said.

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