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By Brian Hews
Three teachers at Whitney High have been enveloped in controversy due to a simulated slavery ship enactment they intended to hold during their 8th grade class time.
The teachers sent an email Sept. 5 entitled a “Unique Learning Experience” informing parents of an upcoming exercise that would expose students to the horrors of slavery. The lesson would involve the teachers acting as “slave ship captains” and students as slaves.
The email read, “we will sternly tell them to line up outside the classroom, use masking tape to ‘tie’ their wrists together, make them lay on the ground inside the room shoulder to shoulder with each other (boys and girls are in separate rows), and then watch a clip from Roots.”
The students were not going to be told, but some learned already from 9th grade students.
Whitney High mother Sharde Carrington was outraged and contacted the Huffington Post about the story.
Carrington told the Post, “As the mother of a black child, I feared that my son’s participation would lead him to experience trauma, perhaps at the cellular level, and have a visceral reaction of anger and fear during the exercise itself.”
Carrington did not allow her son to participate in the lesson.
Whitney said the department had been conducting the slavery lesson for 10 years, saying the exercise came from a nationally recognized supplier of curriculum.
The goal was to immerse the largely non-black student population “into the harrowing world that your ancestors suffered through so as to gain better insight into their plight.”
Cerritos Mayor pro tem Mark Pulido told HMG-CN, “I am outraged, I had no idea, this must end.”
ABCUSD Superintendent Dr. Mary Sieu told HMG-CN, “The WHS 8th grade history lesson is an experiential exercise that was developed many years ago by TCI and designed to enable students to understand what Africans experienced when they were enslaved. Parents were informed in advance of this exercise and given the opportunity to opt out if they were uncomfortable with it. Whitney HS Principal John Briquelet is fully aware of the feedback from the postings and have shared them with his history teachers. He recognizes that times have changed since these exercises were developed. He will be working with his teachers on Monday morning to discontinue this exercise in the future and look for more updated lessons in regards to the slave history.”
ABCUSD Trustee Area 3 candidate Daniel Fierro told HMG-CN, “This is outrageous and in complete opposition to the principles of inclusion and diversity that the Whitney family and the ABC Unified School District hold dear. Under no circumstances should students be restrained, especially without any forewarning or discussion to provide context. This mornjng I spoke to the President of the Board of Education as soon as I learned of the incident, and I look forward to the district rectifying the situation and improving its communication processes. This program has no place in our schools.”