Officials at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, NJ, are scrambling to apologize after a recent assignment angered community members over what they claim is a tone-deaf depiction of slavery.
At issue is a 5th grade U.S. history assignment in which students were asked to create artistic "examples of an event that would occur during their assigned colonial time period, including a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction," according to WABC. The posters were then displayed on school walls during recent parent-teacher conferences, where they caught the eye of Jamil Karriem, a parent who posted pictures of the student's work, and voiced his concerns on Facebook.
"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 explained. "Educating young students on the harsh realities of slavery is of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent."
Karriem urged his fellow parents to contact school administrators and share their concerns with the assignment. His concern was echoed by others in the community, including parent Glenn Conover, who called the assignment "crazy," saying: "I don't think they should've done that,"
"That's disrespectful, first of all, to any of the black kids in the school," Conover added.
The outcry over the assignment—reportedly one which had been taught for the past decade—prompted district Superintendent John Ramos, Sr. to respond in a letter to parents, sent this past Wednesday.
"[South Orange Maplewood School District] is committed to infus[ing] cultural competency in every aspect of our learning community,” Ramos said in his letter, obtained by the Huffington Post. “As part of this never-ending process, it is important that we reflect on the unintended effects of our curriculum, instruction, and interactions. Having reflected on the concerns shared with us, we have decided to remove the slave auction posters from South Mountain hallways, and we apologize for any unintended offense or hardship this activity has caused."
On Sunday, Ramos was joined by South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker, who issued a joint statement calling for tolerance and inclusion in the schools, and urging the community to reject "the ‘us versus them’ mindset which can take hold."
According to the administrators, the district will hold an upcoming town hall meeting to discuss the assignment, and urge community members to join them for a "healthy and productive dialogue to help us move forward."