Family sues Tennessee school district, teacher over 4th grade ‘Let’s Make a Slave’ assignment

Around the South

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The parents of a Black child with autism in Tennessee are suing a school district and a teacher. They claim their son suffered emotional trauma and fear following an “extraordinarily despicable and inflammatory history lesson on racism and slavery.”

It all stems from assignments surrounding the “Let’s Make A Slave” speech from the 1700s. The text is hundreds of years old and is said to have been spoken by a plantation owner to white, Virginia colonists about how to control their slaves.

In February, sister station WKRN reported that speech ended up in a fourth-grade classroom at Waverly-Belmont Elementary School as part of a lesson created by a student-teacher. Students were asked to read it aloud and discuss it.

The lawsuit uncovered new details, claiming that teachers told students to “pretend they were actual slaves, folding themselves under desks and pretending to seek freedom from slavery by being mailed away in a box.”

The family suing Metro Nashville Public Schools alleged this created a “racially hostile environment” and confused their son.

The suit also said the child expressed fears about “being separated from his family, a family member being killed, being mailed off in a box, and being sold for money as a slave.”

The fourth-grader even asked his parents “whether he could change his skin color so as to be safe and not be sent away from his family.”

Additionally, the lawsuit claimed that at least three Metro Schools employees, including the child’s teacher, paraprofessional, and special education instructor, did nothing to intervene.

Eventually, someone stuffed the “Let’s Make a Slave” assignment into the child’s backpack, which his parents found when he got home.

The lawsuit claimed the family is seeking damages to “recover from pain and suffering and emotional distress,” and wants “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.”

Metro Schools spokesman Sean Braisted said the district cannot comment on pending litigation.

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