SOUTHBORO, MASS. (WHDH) - A Southboro teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave after holding a mock slave auction and using the N-word in a pair of incidents earlier this year, the town’s public school superintendent said. 

Superintendent Gregory Martineau in a letter to families said the incidents happened in a fifth grade classroom in January and April. The school district has since launched an investigation and identified a series of actions “to learn from its mistakes.”

“I apologize for the events that took place in The Public Schools of Southborough,” Martineau said. “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.”

Martineau said the “impromptu mock slave auction” happened in January during a history lesson about the economy of the southern colonies. 

“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 said. 

The second incident happened when the same teacher was reading a book to students, according to Martineau. Martineau said the book was recommended by a colleague but was not part of the fifth grade core English language arts curriculum. 

While reading and discussing the book, Martineau said, the teacher used the N-word. 

“It was later brought to the District’s attention that the ‘N-word’ does not appear in the book,” Martineau said. 

Citing the Anti-Defamation League, Martineau said simulations or role playing exercises when teaching about historical atrocities and trauma are not appropriate. 

“They are unsound methods of teaching because they trivialize the experience of the victims and can leave students with the impression after the activity that they know what it was like to experience these atrocities,” Matrineau said.

Martineau said research also shows such simulations are disproportionately traumatic for students of color. 

“Holding a mock slave auction is unacceptable and violates the District’s core values,” he said.

Words such as slurs, Martineau said “should not be spoken by employees or students.”

“Using such words can harm students and negatively impact an open discussion on a particular topic,” Martineau said. 

Martineau said he learned about the two incidents on April 24. 

He said the parents of students in the class where the incidents happened met with the teacher and their school’s principal “to learn about the two incidents.” The next day, Martineau said, “the educator inappropriately called out the student who had reported the educator’s use of the racial slur, which is not acceptable.”

While the investigation continued, Martineau said the district also placed Margaret Neary School Principal Kathleen Valenti on paid administrative leave beginning May 6. Leave, Martineau said, “allows for a thorough and unbiased investigation.”

Valenti’s leave ended on May 16. Martineau said the teacher remained on leave as of Friday. 

“Currently, the District is engaged in due process procedures with the educator,” he said. 

Moving forward, Martineau said the district will develop a professional development plan “focusing on culturally competent pedagogy” to be implemented in the fall. 

Martineau said the district will also expand partnerships with consultants, accelerate faculty and staff professional development, strengthen internal reporting and investigatory procedures and work with families impacted by these incidents to help students transition to sixth grade, among other measures. 

“It’s very unfair whatever happened,” said concerned parent Harsim Ran on Friday. “I never expected that it would be happening around here.”

Fellow concerned parent Mike Lee said he wasn’t aware of the incidents until recently. 

“It’s shocking,” he said. 

In the wake of these incidents, Ran said “strict action should be taken.”

“And it should be an example so that it doesn’t happen again,” Ran said. 

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