A white social studies teacher attempted to enliven a seventh-grade discussion of slavery by binding the hands and feet of two black girls, prompting outrage from one girl’s mother and the local chapter of the NAACP. After the mother complained to Haverstraw Middle School, the superintendent said he was having “conversations with our staff on how to deliver effective lessons.”
“If a student was upset, then it was a bad idea,” said Superintendent Brian Monahan of the North Rockland School District in New York City’s northern suburbs.
The teacher apologized to the mother who complained and her 13-year-old daughter during a meeting Thursday that also included a representative of the local NAACP. But the mother, Christine Shand of Haverstraw, said Friday she thinks the teacher should be removed from the class.
“I think the teacher should have gotten some discipline,” Shand said. “I know if that was me, I would be uncomfortable going back to that class. Why should my daughter have to switch?”
Monahan refused to say what, if any, measures were taken against the teacher, Eileen Bernstein, who was still working on Friday. The school district said she was not available for comment.
“We encourage our teachers to deliver the curriculum in a variety of ways, to go beyond just reading the textbook,” the superintendent said. “We don’t want to discourage creativity. But this obviously went wrong because the student was upset.”
On Nov. 18, Bernstein was discussing the conditions under which African captives were taken to America in slave ships. She bound the two students’ hands and feet with tape and had them crawl under a desk to simulate the experience, Monahan and Shand said. Monahan said the girls were not the only blacks in the class.
Gabrielle Shand burst into tears at home, her mother said.
“There are other ways to demonstrate slavery,” Christine Shand said Friday. “It doesn’t matter the color of the kids, it’s just not right to tie them up. My daughter is still upset, still embarrassed. She didn’t go to school today.”
Wilbur Aldridge, director of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the history demonstration, first reported in The Journal News, “went wrong when she started to do that binding.”
“I don’t care what color, no one should be put in the position of having their hands and feet bound,” he said.
Aldridge said he feared that the teacher still “didn’t get it” after their meeting. He said the teacher apologized “because Gabrielle was upset, not because she admitted she did something wrong.”
Shand said she had not decided whether to take any further action, including filing a lawsuit.