Hamden Parent Angry Over Student ‘Slavery Play'

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A Hamden parent is outraged after her daughter was cast as a slave in a classroom play.

Dr. Carmen Parker said she couldn’t believe her daughter’s class at West Woods Elementary was practicing the play, where students were reenacting being abducted by slave traders and made to lie down side by side as if they were on a slave ship.

“It was one of those moments where time slows down and you’re wondering if you actually heard something as absurdly horrible as it actually sounds,” said Parker.

The Hamden Board of Education said the play was not a part of the approved curriculum, but Parker wants changes to how the school curriculum is developed, and said she’s willing to fight to see those changes made.

Parker said she immediately went to the teacher and principal at West Woods Elementary School and feels like her complaint was dismissed.

“The principal said it’s an unfortunate choice of curriculum but there was no corrective action, no apology, no accountability,” said Parker.

She reached out to the school system and said the director of social studies and the assistant superintendent saw more of a problem with the play, but she said there’s been no apology from the school system.

The superintendent declined NBC Connecticut’s request for an interview. In a statement posted on the school’s website, they said:

“Late last week, district administration was made aware of an incident where a fifth grade teacher used non-Hamden Public Schools' approved instructional resources that had students portraying characters from history. The teacher’s use of this play about slavery raised serious concerns that are currently being investigated by the district's Human Resources Department and appropriate legal counsel.

In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation, the district is unable to provide more detailed information about the incident at this time.

It should be noted that Hamden Public Schools has placed significant emphasis in recent years on increasing the diversity of our curricular materials. We have also begun a major initiative to help staff and students develop greater understanding of issues related to cultural sensitivity and equity. The Board of Education has created an Equity Committee to oversee these efforts and keep the community involved and informed.”

Steven Cousin, pastor at Bethel AME Church who is supporting Parker, said he has questions about curriculum oversight.

 “Who really looked at this and said this is appropriate for me and my kids to perform?” asked Cousin. “Where is the diversity when these decisions are being made to determine what curriculum is appropriate?”

Parker said she wants the school board to establish exactly that: a diverse group of people who have input on what students are learning.

“Who can I be as an educated woman of color, who can I be as a mother, who can I be as an individual if I don’t fight this tooth and nail.”

The school system has confirmed to NBC Connecticut that the teacher is on paid leave during the investigation.

Parker said the larger issue is not the teacher, but what she calls a lack of diversity and oversight in the curriculum development.

She also said her daughter is now being bullied at school. Parker wants the school system to address what’s going on, and what the solutions are, in a forum for the community.

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