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State Investigation Discovers Black Fifth-Graders Being Made to Play Slaves Had ‘Profoundly Negative Impact’

After a state investigation into a March incident at a Bronxville, New York, private school, the State Attorney General’s Office has announced its findings surrounding Black students in a mock slave auction.

The mother of a fifth-grade student at The Chapel School alleged a white teacher let white students make bids and “buy” Black students as the latter pretended to be enslaved, the New York Post reported at the time. The alleged incident occurred on March 5.

The Chapel School
The results of a state investigation into claims a mock slave auction was hosted at The Chapel School have been released. (Stock photo: Getty Images)

Vernex Harding’s children, who are Black, were involved in the activity. She told the paper that her son informed her that the teacher took him and his sisters into the hallway and “started to put imaginary chains on our necks, our wrists and shackles on our ankles.”

When the bidding started, Harding said, instructor Rebecca Antinozzi acted as the auctioneer.

“When they got inside the classroom, she started a bidding process going, ‘$100, $200 …’ and said to one of the other kids, ‘You’re a wealthy white man’ and started bidding at $300,” Harding recalled.

State Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday, May 29, that the activity, which occurred in two separate social studies classes, “had a profoundly negative effect” on the children.

“The investigation found that the teacher’s reenactments in the two classes had a profoundly negative effect on all of the students present — especially the African-American students — and the school community at large,” James said in a statement. “Following the reenactments, the school terminated the teacher’s employment. The investigation further revealed prior parental complaints to school administrators about the school’s lack of racial sensitivity, pre-dating the classroom reenactments, as well as concerns that the school did not take sufficient steps to address the complaints.

‘The investigation disclosed that families had previously made complaints relating to, among other things, unequal discipline of students on the basis of race, a lack of racial sensitivity and awareness in school curricula, and a lack of diversity among the teaching faculty,” James added.

The pre-K through eighth grade school, which costs up to $14,000 to attend, must now agree to ensure equal educational access for students, regardless of race. The school, which says its student body is 43 percent nonwhite, is required to give all students at the school “an environment free of harassment and discrimination” the press release stated. Additionally, the school must make vital changes to diversify its staff and promote inclusion.

“Every young person — regardless of race — deserves the chance to attend school free of harassment, bias and discrimination,” James said. “Lessons designed to separate children on the basis of race have no place in New York classrooms, or in classrooms throughout this country. I thank The Chapel School for agreeing to take measures that directly address the issues of race, diversity and inclusion at the school.”

Principal Michael Schultz told NBC News the school holds accountability for the state’s conclusions and will employ the requirements necessary.

“The Chapel School reached a timely resolution with the attorney general to ensure that our focus remains on the well being of our community as we move forward in continued reflection, action and growth,” the school said.

Among the specifics of what the school must do, The Chapel School is required to hire a diversity consultant to help with racial sensitivity training, commission new financial aid opportunities to maintain and increase diversity, and create a formal complaint procedure.

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