Neary teacher placed on leave after holding mock slave auction

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The Margaret A. Neary Elementary School is located at 53 Parkerville Rd.
The Margaret A. Neary Elementary School is located at 53 Parkerville Rd.
(Photo/Laura Hayes)

SOUTHBOROUGH – A teacher at Margaret A. Neary School has been placed on administrative leave after they reportedly held a mock slave auction and used a racial slur while discussing a book. 

“I apologize for the events that took place in the Public Schools of Southborough,” wrote Superintendent Greg Martineau in a letter to parents. “I acknowledge that there were missteps in this process that further complicated the situation. Ultimately, I am responsible for ensuring students are in safe and supportive learning environments.”

In a letter to parents, Martineau said he learned about two incidents from parents on April 24. 

The first occurred during a history lesson in January on the economy of the southern colonies, including slavery. Martineau said the teacher was teaching about the triangle trade and discussed slave auctions. He said that during the lesson, the teacher held an “impromptu mock slave auction.”

“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),” Martineau wrote.

He wrote that holding a mock slave auction was “unacceptable,” and it violated the core values of the school district.

“Simulations or role plays when teaching about historical atrocities or trauma are not appropriate, and these teaching methods are not to be used,” said Martineau. 

The methods “trivialize” victims’ experiences, give students the impression that they know what it is like to experience this and research indicates they are inappropriate for any student and disproportionally traumatize students of color, he said.

The second incident involved the same teacher and took place in April. He said the teacher was reading a book out loud that was recommended by a colleague, but was not part of the fifth grade core ELA curriculum.

According to Martineau, while the teacher was reading and discussing the text, they used the “n-word.”

“It was later brought to the District’s attention that the ‘N-word’ does not appear in the book,” Martineau wrote. “Dehumanizing words such as slurs should not be spoken by employees or students. Using such words can harm students and negatively impact an open discussion on a particular topic.”

According to Martineau, parents had a chance to meet with the teacher and principal to learn about the incidents with a goal of transparency and to take responsibility for mistakes.

“The next day, the educator inappropriately called out the student who had reported the educator’s use of the racial slur, which is not acceptable,” Martineau said.

He said the district began a formal investigation, and the teacher was placed on administrative leave as was Principal Kathleen Valenti from May 6 to 16. According to Martineau, the school district is taking part in “due process with procedures” with the teacher. 

He outlined several actions that will take place in the district, including developing a professional development plant that focuses on “culturally competent” pedagogy to be implemented in the fall; continuing partnerships with MassInsight and Facing History in Ourselves; expanding partnership with consultants; accelerate the professional development of all staff; strengthen internal reporting and investigatory procedures through training; partner with MassInsight to assess their progress on the Equity Audit action plan; and work with families and students who were directly impacted.

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