Sandra Baker is the mother of the 12-year-old student who says that she and her classmates were forced to re-enact slavery during a field trip. (Photo: Courtesy of WFSB 3)
Middle school students of Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy were forced to play the role of slaves and called the N-word and other racial slurs during a school field trip to a program called Nature's Classroom in Charlton, Massachusetts, last year, according to a Black student.
The 12-year-old girl said she and her classmates were told by their instructors, who acted as their oppressors, to stand on an auction block, pick cotton and to dance for "their masters." She said they also had to pretend to be on slave ships.
"I went into a dark room where I had to sit on my bottom with my knees together," she said in a statement read by her father, James Baker, last week to the Hartford school board. "My legs fell asleep and were hurting."
The family filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in March. Program officials met with the state Department of Education in August. Lawmakers are expected to open their own inquiry of the program, according to to the state's African-American Affairs Commission.
Associated Press reports:
Jon Santos, the director of Nature's Classroom, defended the three-hour simulation Friday as an empathy-building activity that helps teach students about slavery, and also has lessons about modern issues such as bullying. He said the activity, which is not supposed to involve racial epithets, has been part of the program for about 18 years, he said.
"This is a re-enactment of a historical event that has relevance to their day-to-day interaction with their peers and classroom teacher," he said. "How do you feel when this is put upon you? How do you think you should feel when it is put upon someone else?"
Program officials failed to adequately brief parents about the simulation, a report from the Department of Education said, and the program also lacked key components, such as a statement of clear objectives and instructions to staff, and a way to gauge students' ability to emotionally handle the content.
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