Teacher Placed on Leave After ‘Mock Slave Auction’ in Class

A fifth-grade teacher in Massachusetts who held a “mock slave auction” and used a racial slur in a classroom has been placed on paid administrative leave, the district superintendent said.

The teacher, who has not been publicly identified, held the mock auction in January during a history lesson on the economy of Southern colonies, the superintendent of Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough, Gregory L. Martineau, said in a letter to parents dated May 29.

During the lesson, the teacher “asked two children sitting in front of the room, who were of color, to stand,” Mr. Martineau said, and the class discussed physical attributes, including teeth and strength.

In April, the same teacher read a book to the class that was not included in the core curriculum, and used a racial slur that did not appear in the book while doing so, he said.

“Holding a mock slave auction is unacceptable,” Mr. Martineau wrote, noting that doing so violated the school district’s values.

He said that he learned of both episodes from parents on April 24.

The parents of students in the class met with both the teacher and principal, he said, without specifying when. He noted that the day after the meeting, “the educator inappropriately called out the student who had reported the educator’s use of the racial slur, which is not acceptable.”

Kathleen A. Valenti, who is listed as the principal of the Margaret A. Neary School in Southborough, Mass., was also placed on paid administrative leave from May 6 to 16, according to the letter.

More than 65 percent of the school’s students are white, and less than 2 percent are Black, according to enrollment data.

“Paid administrative leave allows for a thorough and unbiased investigation,” Mr. Martineau said. “Currently, the district is engaged in due process procedures with the educator who remains on leave.”

Ms. Valenti could not be immediately reached for comment on Sunday. The Massachusetts Teachers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Mr. Martineau apologized to parents and said that he was ultimately responsible.

“I acknowledge that there were missteps in this process that further complicated the situation,” he said.

In March, investigators in Massachusetts said they would pursue criminal charges against six teenagers who participated in a “racist online chat” that included a “mock slave auction.”

And in 2022, a North Carolina school board said it would review its student code of conduct and discipline policies after white middle schoolers pretended to sell their Black classmates at a similar mock auction.