A white Connecticut teacher was placed on leave after casting black students as slaves in a school play

·3 min read
elementary school
elementary school

Associated Press

  • A white elementary school teacher has been placed on administrative leave after casting to black students in "A Triangle of Trade," a play about the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

  • Although outraged, the mother of one of the children believes it's not enough or fair to simply "scapegoat' the teacher for "a system that is clearly broken."

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A Connecticut community is divided after a white elementary school teacher was put on administrative leave after casting two black students as slaves in a play.

Carmen Parker told the New Haven Independent that her 10-year-old daughter came home last week and said that she'd be playing Enslaved African 2 in "A Triangle of Trade," a play at West Woods Elementary School in Hamden, Connecticut. Parker's child, who is in the fifth grade, is biracial.

Her classmate, a young black boy, had been cast as Enslaved African 1.

The read-aloud play is centered on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and was published by Scholastic in 2003 as an anthology of short instructional plays about colonial America, the newspaper reported. It "seeks to provide some economic insights about why European rulers and their colonists agreed to such a morally reprehensible venture and why the African rulers might have joined in despite the harm to their people," according to Scholastic.

'How are we playing slaves and masters?'

"We don't even play cowboys and Indians anymore," Parker told the New Haven Independent. "How are we playing slaves and masters?"

When Parker, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, called the school and district to complain, the play was axed, but without any explanation or apology. 

The Hamden Public School District's teaching staff in 2017-2018 was 90% white, while 60% of the student population were students of color, according to 2019 data from the State Department of Education, the Independent reported.

Superintendent Jody Goeler said the play had not been approved by the district, noting that the district would not "defend it and support it." 

Goeler said that teachers sometimes make mistakes, conceding that "this was a bad one" and would be dealt with "as a personnel matter."

'Teachers are not the scapegoat'

It turns out, Parker said, the teacher had pivoted to the play because the district's computer system was down, making her original plan impossible to do.

The school's principal Daniel M. Levy posted a statement to the school district's website, saying in part: "Late last week, district administration was made aware of an incident where a 5th grade teacher used non-Hamden Public Schools' approved instructional resources that had students portraying characters from history.

"The teacher's use of this play about slavery raised serious concerns that are currently being investigated by the district's Human Resources Department and appropriate legal counsel."

Carmen Parker and her husband Joshua Parker attended a packed Board of Education meeting on Wednesday and said that pointing fingers at the teacher is not the answer. This error is symptomatic of a larger issue.

"Teachers are not the scapegoat for a system that is clearly broken and has been suppressing minority voices and the voices of those with disabilities," she said. "I would like to support [the teacher] to learn how to make a better community for our minority students."  

Parker did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

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