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Elementary school under fire for auctioning off student in mock slave trade

New Jersey parents were dismayed to learn that some fifth-graders at Jefferson School held a mock slave auction — and filmed it — for a class project. (Image source: WABC-TV screen cap)

New Jersey parents are outraged after elementary school students auctioned off a classmate in a mock slave auction.

The fifth-grade students, under supervision of a substitute teacher, used "creative license" while presenting a project on the Triangular Slave Trade, according to a letter sent home to the students' parents by the classroom teacher.

NJ.com reported that the teacher returned to the Jefferson School classroom in Maplewood, N.J., following a medical absence to view the video of the mock slave auction the students took and decided to proactively issue a letter to the students' parents.

"While I understand the creative effort, and the impact it had upon the students who viewed this, I used it as a teachable moment to elaborate on the gravity of this part of our history," the teacher said, according to the letter obtained by the Maplewoodian blog.

The young students are learning about colonization in the U.S., according to the letter.

"I was concerned about the students who viewed and participated in this re-enactment and would like to convey this event to you so we can address the students' perceptions as a whole," the teacher said.

But Tracey Jarmon-Woods, a parent of a student at Jefferson School told WCBS-TV that she was worried about the impact the mock slave auction could have on students — especially the children who were auctioned.

"There was a sale of a black child by white children in the classroom," Jarmon-Woods said. "If you're demoralized, if you're sold on a block in 2017 in a fifth-grade class, it may affect you for the rest of your life."

"When we're dealing with the Holocaust, we would never put Jewish kids in two lines and say, 'you go to the left, you go to the right' as an assignment," Jarmon-Woods also told WABC-TV.

Parent Machli Alexandre told WABC that it is important to know what the "intent" of the project is as "the intent makes all the difference."

"Anything that could hurt a kid should be avoided," he said.

South Orange-Maplewood School District spokeswoman Suzanne Turner told NJ.com, "The activity was not part of the curriculum, not part of the teacher's assignment, not condoned by the teacher, not authorized by the district."

Turner added that the district will look into further "training and improved supervisory protocols" for substitute teachers in the future.

A letter from the school to parents — obtained by WABC — said it was "concerned" to see students treat the subject of slavery so "lightly."

"The jovial nature of the video suggests that either there is a lack of understanding about the true barbarity of a slave auction, or a lack of awareness of how treating this topic comically is offensive," the letter stated.

Parents expressed their concern about the class project at a Board of Education meeting as well.

"We're always in damage control, and it's getting absurd honestly," board member Filip Saulean said at the meeting, according to WCBS.

As WABC reported, this was the second incident in just a week when the school district came under fire for how fifth-graders handled the subject of slavery. Parents of students at South Mountain Elementary were dismayed to find out the children created posters advertising slaves.

One poster, according to WABC, listed a 12-year-old girl for sale who was described as "a fine housegirl." Another poster said only cash payment is accepted for slaves.

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