Parents outraged after 12-year-old girl called racial slurs as part of slavery reenactment

By Travis Gettys
Thursday, September 19, 2013 16:52 EDT
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A Connecticut couple is still seeking answers from their daughter’s school nearly a year after the girl said she’d been chased through the woods and called racial slurs as part of a slavery reenactment during a field trip.

James and Sandra Baker said their 12-year-old daughter came home from a four-day trip to Nature’s Classroom in Charlton, Mass., and told them about the activity, WFSB-TV reported.

The girl said students were led into a dark room, lined up and asked to imagine watching as their fathers were killed by slave masters before they were loaded onto slave ships.

The instructor ordered them to sit closely together and warned students that they would relieve themselves on one another and likely get sick, the girl said. She also told her parents that the instructor told her she may have to dance to entertain the others.

The students were then taken to some woods, where the girl said they pretended to pick cotton, and she told her parents the instructors called them animals who had no rights.

The instructors also threatened to whip her, cut her Achilles tendon or hang her if she tried to run away, Al Jazeera America reported.

The girl’s mother also cited several comments she said were taken from Nature’s Classroom Underground Railroad Report, which included multiple references to students as the plural form of the N-word.

Sandra Baker said one child “started to believe some of the things the group leaders were saying.”

The Bakers said they had contacted their daughter’s school, Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, about the field trip but eventually decided to bring their concerns to the Hartford Board of Education.

“As an African-American parent, I carefully consider how my children receive messages about racial identity, and I do this because all too often these messages are not positive,” Sandra Baker told the board. “There is no way I would have allowed our child to participate in this aspect of the field trip had we been given the choice.”

Their daughter said instructors gave them the opportunity to opt out of the activity but only told them about it a half hour before the reenactment began.

Sandra Baker told WSFB-TV she can’t believe the school has been taking part in the trip for years and apparently never saw a problem with it.

She told the station she had filed complaints with the state Department of Education, Human Rights Commission and offices of civil rights.

“It’s a town of people of color,” she said. “Really. I mean, Hartford, you could not see something was wrong with this?”

The Bakers said they have since removed their daughter from the Hartford School District.

Nature’s Classroom describes itself as an environmental educational experience with such activities as campfires, folk dances and hikes.

Other parents made similar complaints five years ago about the camp’s Underground Railroad activity, and a Nature’s Classroom spokesman defended the reenactment.

“Kids aren’t given enough credit for what they can handle,” the camp’s associate director said at the time. “I haven’t heard a lot about kids saying that it’s horrible. Schools see it as important and ask for it year after year. Very few ask to drop it. A lot of schools do follow-up activities with the Underground Railroad.”

The camp has not commented on the latest complaints.

Read James and Sandra Baker’s statements to the Hartford School Board.

[Photo via WSFB-TV]

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