From the bountiful annals of public-school stupidity comes this mind-blowing allegation: a Hartford, Conn. magnet school sent a 12-year-old black girl and her classmates on a field trip where the instructors held a slavery reenactment, chased the kids through the woods and repetitively called them the n-word.
The unnamed girl was a seventh grader at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy when the field trip occurred last year, reports local CBS affiliate WFSB.
The magnet school notes on its website that it enjoys a partnership with nearby Trinity College, which “provides a variety of academic programs for students.”
The girl and her parents claim the reenactment happened on the third night of a four-day trip to Nature’s Classroom in in Charlton, Mass. She and her classmates had to pretend their instructors were slave masters. They were told to pretend to pick cotton at one point. At another point, they had to imagine they were aboard a slave ship.
For some reason, students were allowed to opt out of an Underground Railroad segment of the slave program—presumably the running-through-the-woods part. However, students only learned of the opt-out provision some 30 minutes before that segment began.
James Baker, the girl’s father, testified concerning his daughter’s description of the slavery reenactment before the Hartford Board of Education.
“I went into a dark room where I had to sit on my bottom with my knees together; my legs fell asleep and were hurting,” the girl said. “We were jammed together tightly touching each other. While in the dark room, I was told by the instructor that we will go to the bathroom on each other, and some of us might throw up.”
She was also warned that “sharks were following the ship” and that she “may have to dance to entertain them.”
Other things the instructors allegedly told the 12-year-old black girl and her classmates include “Nigger if you can read, there is a problem,” “You don’t have any rights, we own you” and “How dare you look those dark eyes at me, I am higher than you.”
The girl’s mother, Sandra Baker, relayed several comments of other students in her testimony. One student “started to believe some of the things the group leaders were saying.” Another “felt like a real slave.”
Sandra Baker also voiced her own opinion of the slavery reenactment.
“I can’t comprehend how the principal and a group of teachers could allow our children to be intentionally demeaned, verbally abused and emotionally terrorized,” she said, noting that she would not have permitted her daughter to go on the field trip had she known what was in store.
A reporter from WFSB later interviewed the irate mother.
“The fact that they used the n-word—I mean, how dare you do that, say that to my child and call it an educational experience? How dare you say that to any child?” she asked.
“It’s a town of people of color,” she added (referring to Hartford). “You could not see that something was wrong with this?”
Nature’s Classroom, the outfit that runs the slavery reenactment, has several locations in the region. It’s not clear what the instructors there hoped to accomplish with the highly realistic slavery reenactment. The Nature’s Classroom website calls the slavery reenactment its “Underground Railroad activity” but provides no further details.
The organization’s website describes the field-trip program in glowing terms. “After spending a week at Nature’s Classroom, living and learning together, students develop a sense of community, a confidence in themselves and an appreciation for others that carries over to the school community,” it boasts.
No one from Nature’s Classroom responded to a request from the CBS station for comment.
A representative of the Hartford school district had no comment, either, other than to say that the district does not comment on pending lawsuits.
The Bakers have since pulled their daughter out of the Hartford school district.
They have filed complaints with Connecticut’s Department of Education, Human Rights Commission and Office of Civil Rights.