The principal of Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, D.C. ended the year apologizing for a lesson that resulted in fifth-grade students of color being asked to pretend to be enslaved people.
Principal Carrie Broquard sent out a letter to students’ families, calling the class assignment a mistake and acknowledging that the students “should not have been tasked with acting out or portraying different perspectives of enslavement and war,” CNN reports.
The incident occurred last month during a fifth-grade lesson in which students had been learning about the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Students started the unit reading an article called “A Nation Divided” before the teaching team encouraged further engagement by having them put on a dramatic reading, create a living picture or create a podcast in smaller groups.
That plan, however, reportedly fell apart after some students asked their classmates of color to play roles that were “inappropriate and harmful,” including “a person of color drinking from a segregated water fountain and an enslaved person,” the teaching team said.
Broquard, who does not specify if the students of color asked to portray enslaved people were Black students, said that some students voiced their discomfort in playing the roles that their classmates asked them to play. Others were unsure of how to respond or stand up for those students who were asked to portray these roles.
“We deeply regret that we did not foresee this as a potential challenge in role-playing so we could set appropriate parameters to protect students,” the fifth-grade team said, according to the report.
“At Lafayette, we believe in the importance of teaching painful history with sensitivity and social awareness,” Broquard said in her letter about the incident, adding that the lesson will not be taught again in the future. “Unfortunately we fell short of those values in a recent fifth-grade lesson.”