North Elementary School in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — An investigation by the state attorney general’s office into a May 2019 fourth-grade lesson plan at North Elementary School that included a re-enactment of a slave auction has found the incident “had a profoundly negative effect on all students present.”

The investigation did not find the Watertown City School District violated any state or federal civil rights laws, but will result in the district appointing a diversity office and will require the district to “actively pursue staff diversification” through its hiring practices.

In a letter announcing an agreement between the AG’s office and the district, the district is credited with taking immediate steps to ensure a similar incident does not recur, including providing additional training and enacting other measures.

“We are heartened to announce that the New York State Attorney General’s Office has approved many of the steps that the school district has already taken on its own initiative, many of which were already in place before the incident occurred,” Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr said in a statement.

The AG’s office’s investigation concluded that on May 18, 2019, during a lesson unrelated to slavery, a teacher, previously identified as Patricia Bailey, held a simulated slave auction in which two Black students were bid on sold to other students. The students were instructed to call the winning bidders “master” and take the bidders’ surnames.

The teacher further told the Black students they should not try to escape “because they would be chased down and violence done to them,” according to the agreement between the AG’s office and the district.

The investigation found no evidence Ms. Bailey “acted with express authorization, permission or approval” from the district and noted, as soon as the district learned of the lesson plan, placed Ms. Bailey on administrative leave. She did not return to the classroom and resigned, according to the agreement.

The agreement calls for, among other things, the district to hire or designate a current employee as its chief diversity officer within 60 days of the agreement, which is dated July 31. This person, whose selection will be subject to the AG’s office’s review and approval, will have the primary responsibility of implementing the agreement between the office and the district.

Within 30 days of the appointment of the diversity office, the district must inform students and parents of the agreement between the AG’s office and the district and notify them that the diversity officer will be the primary point of contact for any concerns related to discrimination, harassment or other “district climate” issue.

Also, within 30 days of the agreement the district will be required to hire a third-party “diversity consultant” to assist the district in development and implementation of anti-harassment and discrimination training and protocols. According to the agreement, the district is already working with consultants and the district is committed to continuing to do so.

“The District had, prior to this incident, established an anti-harassment discrimination policy and program,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “The District has also expanded various programs for behavioral support and has established rewarding positive behavior programs, to include Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and the Positivity Project. We look forward to our continued work in fostering an atmosphere of inclusion and the support of diversity within the Watertown City School District.”

The agreement additionally calls for the district to continue to diverse its staff, including by placing ads for teacher vacancies in diverse publications, expanding the type and number of sources of recruitment and consulting with the diversity consultant regarding best practices in recruitment and retention of a diverse staff.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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