The Mehlville School District said the teacher has since been placed on paid administrative leave

By Rachel DeSantis
December 11, 2019 02:42 PM
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Parents of students at a St. Louis elementary school are calling for greater cultural sensitivity after a fifth-grade teacher handed out an assignment asking students to “set a price for your slave.”

The teacher at Blades Elementary School has been placed on paid administrative leave amid outrage over the assignment, which was meant to teach students about market practices, a spokeswoman for the Mehlville School District Superintendent confirms to PEOPLE.

The prompt went viral on Facebook after it was shared by Lee Hart, who said her friend’s child had brought the assignment home from school.

“It is so wrong on so many levels,” Hart wrote. “What do you think the plan of action should be? This was supposedly a westward expansion lesson. Some were given food, wood, water, and….slaves!!!!”

According to a copy obtained by PEOPLE, the assignment read: “You own a plantation or farm and therefore need more workers. You begin to get involved in the slave trade industry and have slaves work on your farm. Your product to trade is slaves. Set your price for a slave. These could be worth a lot. You may trade for any items you’d like.”

Blades mother Angela Walker, who has a biracial child, spoke with CBS affiliate KMOV after finding the prompt in her son’s school work folder.

“We have to be more culturally sensitive. We can say get over a homework assignment. It’s just a homework assignment. That was 100 years ago,” she said. “It was, but it’s still someone else’s family. Maybe there are people who don’t see the wrong in it but we need to be talking about it.”

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In a letter addressing the community, Blades Principal Jeremy Booker wrote that the assignment was “culturally insensitive,” and that he had met with the teacher who handed it out to review its implications.

“The teacher has expressed significant remorse,” he wrote. “The district is continuing to investigate this event. Also, I am working with district leadership to provide all Blades teachers and staff with professional development on cultural bias in the near future.”

Meanwhile, Mehlville School District Superintendent Chris Gaines also issued a statement condemning and apologizing for the incident.

“Racism of any kind, even inadvertently stemming from cultural bias, is wrong and is not who we aspire to be as a school district. I am sorry and disappointed that this happened in our school,” he wrote. “There is no quick fix for cultural bias. We will be devoting significant time and resources to train our staff on issues related to cultural competency, implicit bias and equity.”