‘Set your price for a slave’: Mo. teacher on leave over historical trade assignment

MEHLVILLE, Mo. (KMOV/CNN) - A Missouri school district is promising staff training on cultural bias after an elementary school teacher asked students in an assignment to “set your price for a slave.”

A fifth grade teacher at Blades Elementary School in St. Louis was placed on administrative leave Monday night after parents complained about a “culturally insensitive” classroom assignment given to students.

The assignment asked 12 questions about historical trade and market practices. One of the questions read as follows:

“You own a plantation or farm and therefore need more workers. You begin to get involved in the slave trade industry and have slaves work on your farm. Your product to trade is slaves.

Set your price for a slave. These could be worth a lot.

You may trade for any items you’d like.”

The mother of a biracial child, Angela Walker says she was shocked to find the assignment among the schoolwork in her son’s folder. She hopes the teacher and school district will learn from the incident.

“We have to be more culturally sensitive. We can say, ‘Get over a homework assignment. It’s just a homework assignment. That was 100 years ago,’" Walker said. “Yes, it was, but it’s still someone else’s family. Maybe there are people who don’t see the wrong in it, but we need to be talking about it.”

The other 11 questions in the assignment asked about pricing grain, apples, fish, oil and other products. It also included a reflection section where students were asked about their thoughts on a free market economy and whether they would consider themselves wealthy.

Principal Jeremy Booker said in a letter to parents and staff he talked to the teacher to discuss the purpose of the assignment.

“The assignment was culturally insensitive,” Booker said. “The teacher has expressed significant remorse.”

Chris Gaines, the superintendent of the Mehlville School District, released a statement Tuesday addressing the classroom activity.

"Racism of any kind, even inadvertently stemming from cultural bias, is wrong and is not who we aspire to be as a school district. I am sorry and disappointed that this happened in our school,” said Gaines in the statement. "There is no quick fix for cultural bias. We will be devoting significant time and resources to train our staff on issues related to cultural competency, implicit bias and equity.”

The NAACP has called for a formal apology from the teacher and superintendent. They also offered to help train school staff.

Copyright 2019 KMOV, Angela Walker, Blades Elementary School via CNN. All rights reserved.