‘Unacceptable’: Newton Montessori School Closes Thanks to Instructor Who Taught a Black History Lesson By Letting Toddlers Make Blackface Masks

A Montessori school in Newton, Massachusetts, has been shut down after a preschool teacher had toddlers in blackface. The instructor attempted to costume the children in black masks to portray Black people in celebration of Black History Month.

IC Kids Newton school reported on its social media page that the black mask/blackface instance happened on Tuesday, Feb. 8 and that a parent brought it to the management’s attention three days later.

The toddler’s classroom teacher “planned and carried out” a black mask/black face activity to celebrate Black History Month. Children in the class made their own black masks and used them to pretend their skin was dark to honor outstanding African-Americans in the country’s history. 

Photographs on social media show the children sitting on the floor with white paper plates covered in black paint with eyes, noses, and mouths cut out. In the picture, a white-skinned teacher seems to be helping one child decorate the black paper face with black string. One child has the mask on her face as if to see if it fits.

Mass Live also reports that the children were seen planking in rows as if they were “tight-packing,” a systemic positioning that traders used when transporting cargo, African women, men, and children during the middle passage or “MAAFA,” a term referring to the Transatlantic slave trade.

One of the parents, Nadirah Pierce, told the teacher that the activity was offensive after seeing images, prompting the teacher to apologize.

The teacher’s lesson plan was not approved by the director of the school, who was away handling personal issues. However, she became aware after the same parent reported the activity.

Upon learning about the questionable tribute, the school notes the “activity was removed from the classroom and the teacher reprimanded for such actions.”

Though the director knew, she did not tell management. Those responsible for the run of the school found out about the class activity via a social media post blasting the school by yet another parent on Friday, Feb. 11. 

According to NBC Boston, parents started to hear about the school and reacted. Pierce complained to the school’s administration and pulled her children from the program. 

She said to the news broadcast, “This is unacceptable and [I] don’t really understand the concept of this project.”

Pierce said she noticed her children were covered in black paint. She asked her kids why and they told her it was for the Black History Month project that they were doing. The mom said she didn’t pay much attention until the next day when the school posted photos from the activity for parents online.

The school first posted a Facebook message that said, “To all who are offended, we sincerely apologize for what happened with one of our classroom activities: black face. Our intention was to celebrate Black History Month. Unfortunately we didn’t do enough research on black history and carried out a wrong activity. We are sorry about it and we mean it!”

After comments criticized the method of the apology, the post was deleted and a full statement was posted in its stead.

One comment read, “THIS is not an apology. ‘To all who are offended’ is not having accountability for the school’s actions. ‘We are sorry about it and we mean it!’ — You were better off addressing it at all.”

On Sunday, Feb. 13, after the school alleged protestors were gathering outside of the school, management issued an apology and closed the doors of the center indefinitely.

The apology stated in part that “Research for toddler curriculum was not executed or completed in the manner that it should have been, so we apologize to every and anyone this might have offended.”

“The staff who planned and executed the activity has since been released from her employment at ICKids,” the statement added. 

“Considering of protests happening at the center that will put the children at risk … we are closing the ICKids daycare at this time,” it said. 

Families of children who attended that school were promised a list of child care centers in the area to immediately address their childcare needs.

Pierce commented on the apology, calling it “empty” and “disheartening.” 

“I hope this is a lesson to possibly really prepare to do projects on cultures before doing them to avoid a hurtful gesture to a group of people,” Pierce said. “Even if they weren’t trying to offend, they have.”

Professor Johnnie Hamilton-Mason, who teaches dynamics of racism at Simmons University, said that the lesson actually reinforced stereotypes.

“Having children participate in an activity in which they draw Black faces is shameful,” she said. “It makes fun of them, they’re not really human, they’re human, but they’re less than human.”

Montessori is a method of education that is based on “self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play developed” by Dr. Maria Montessori, as described by the Montessori Northwest’s website.

In these classrooms “children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.”

Management asserts that the teacher responsible for the lesson was fired and that she did not “execute curriculum in the manner trained to do so” and as a result caused a “negative impact and light of the daycare center.” They assured that if the school were to reopen “all staff will be trained in Diversity and creating curriculum for the birth to 5-year-old age group.”

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