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Teacher Under Fire For 'Make It Funny' Assignment About Freed Slaves, 'Don't Bore Me'

FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - A Long Island social studies teacher has apologized after giving what critics are calling a shockingly insensitive assignment.

Students say the white teacher told them to write "funny" captions on images of freed slaves, reports CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

At J.W. Dodd Middle School in Freeport, eighth-graders were supposed to be getting a lesson in a shameful chapter of history, the Reconstruction Era, when freed slaves struggled as sharecroppers.

Their lesson, shared thousands of times on social media, has sparked outrage: Write captions on the photos about the era and "make it funny" so students "don't bore me."

The reaction has echoed shock.

"Something like that you shouldn't make fun of," said one community member. "It's like somebody making fun of Jews and the Holocaust."

"I don't think she used common sense and she needs more training," said another.

A "poorly conceived and executed" lesson is how the school superintendant put it in a statement, acknowledging the teacher instructed three separate classes of students to develop funny captions - "an insensitive trivialization of a deeply painful era for African Americans in this country, and it is unacceptable."

Some in Freeport give the veteran teacher a pass.

"It was a poor judgment and my daughter is in the class," said one parent. "My daughter is not affected."

"She's a good teacher, she didn't mean it that way," said one student. "Some people took offense to it and I know how she meant it."

CBS2 reached out to the teacher and she did not respond. The district shared her apology for what she calls her insensitive words.

"It is my responsibility to exercise the highest degree of care and thought in all of my interactions," she said. "I failed to do so last week."

She has been removed from teaching duties while officials finalize a disciplinary agreement.

"What would make you even say something like that in the first place its just unthinkable," said another resident.

The superintendent asked for patience through the investigation reaffirming the school's commitment to tolerance.

CBS2 also reached out to the Freeport teachers association which did not respond to requests for comment.

The following statements were posted on the website:

Statement from Superintendent of Schools

As you may know, we have been conducting an investigation regarding an assignment given to students by a J.W. Dodd Middle School teacher last Thursday.

The teacher's directions to the students concerned the writing of captions for Reconstruction Era photos. The Reconstruction Era is the roughly fourteen years following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and end of the Civil War in 1865.

The District's investigation began last Friday after several parents contacted the school principal to share their concerns. The teacher was removed from the classroom while the investigation proceeded.

Let me be perfectly clear: Our investigation has determined that this lesson was poorly conceived and executed. The teacher instructed three separate classes of students to develop captions for photos of post-war sharecroppers. We understand from our investigation that she told students to 'make it funny' and 'don't bore me.' Aside from the fact that this is a poor lesson, it is an insensitive trivialization of a deeply painful era for African Americans in this country, and it is unacceptable.

The teacher has delivered an apology which I will share with you this evening:

"It is with the deepest sense of respect that I apologize to the students, families and larger Freeport community for my insensitive words and actions last week. As a teacher and fellow member of this school community, it is my responsibility to exercise the highest degree of care and thought in all of my student and staff interactions. I failed to do so last week, and I fully accept that I must work hard to rebuild trust from my students, colleagues and the community."

We are currently finalizing an agreement with the teacher and her union representatives.

On behalf of the Board of Education, I want to thank the Freeport community for its patience through this investigation, and reaffirm our schools as places of tolerance and understanding.

Dr. Kishore Kuncham
Superintendent of Schools


A Message from Superintendent of Schools

September 22, 2019

I have been informed that during a recent eighth grade Reconstruction Era social studies lesson at J.W. Dodd Middle School, a faculty member is reported to have used directions to describe an assignment that were very upsetting to some students and families.

The emotional and social wellness of our students is always our highest priority and we take any insensitive comments made by staff very seriously. I have directed that an investigation of these claims be immediately conducted. Since this matter involves a District employee and is a personnel matter, there will be no further comment until a thorough investigation and careful consideration of the facts of this matter are completed.

Dr. Kishore Kuncham
Superintendent of Schools

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