Teacher apologizes for having students write 'funny' captions on slavery pictures

The superintendent of Freeport Public Schools said the lesson "is an insensitive trivialization of a deeply painful era for African Americans in this country, and it is unacceptable."

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By Janelle Griffith

A teacher on Long Island, New York, has apologized for telling students to "make it funny" and "don't bore me" when assigning them to write captions for photos of former slaves after the Civil War.

The unidentified teacher had students at John W. Dodd Middle School in Freeport write “funny” titles and captions for photos of postwar black sharecroppers last week, according to school officials.

In a statement Tuesday, the superintendent of Freeport Public Schools, Dr. Kishore Kuncham, slammed the teacher's assignment as "an insensitive trivialization" and "poorly conceived."

Kuncham said the district opened an investigation Friday after several parents contacted the middle school principal with their concerns about the lesson. The teacher was placed on administrative duty while the investigation was conducted, he said.

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“Let me be perfectly clear: Our investigation has determined that this lesson was poorly conceived and executed,” Kuncham said in his statement. “The teacher instructed three separate classes of students to develop captions for photos of post-war sharecroppers.”

Darlene McCurty, who wrote about the assignment in a Sept. 20 Facebook post, said that she was among those who complained. Her post, which has been shared almost 2,000 times, includes images of the worksheets with such captions as “Black girl magic” and “Getting that money” beneath images of the sharecroppers in cotton fields.

McCurty wrote that she was contacted by her granddaughter who was disturbed by the assignment, which was given to one of the girl's friends in a social studies class.

The investigation found the teacher told students to “make it funny” and “don’t bore me” with the photo captions, according to Kuncham.

“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,” he said.

J.W. Dodd Middle School is a seventh- and eighth-grade school that as of the 2017-18 school year had a student body that was 66 percent Hispanic and 25 percent African American, according to the New York State Education Department.

The superintendent’s statement included an apology from the teacher.

“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,” the teacher said. “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.”