School Apologizes for Teaching Slaves Came to America by Choice

An elementary school in upstate New York has issued an apology after some fourth graders were wrongly taught that enslaved Africans came to America by choice.

A teacher at Jefferson Road Elementary School in Pittsford used worksheets from an online resource called Classroom Nook during a lesson about slavery in January. The local school board had not approved the website as a source for educational materials.

Michael Pero, superintendent of schools for Pittsford Central School District, issued the apology on Tuesday following a complaint from a parent, according to Rochester TV station WROC.

The worksheet was about slavery in colonial America and asked four questions, one of which was: "Why did slaves come to America?"

It provided a fill-in-the-blank answer that read: "As an exchange for the trip to America, African Americans agreed to work for colonists for _____ years, but then were kept as slaves."

Another question asked what jobs were done by enslaved people. It offered the answers "_____ butter" and "_____ around the house."

The Pittsford Central School District told Newsweek on Thursday: "This worksheet was part of one lesson used by a first-year teacher and limited to use in one class, at one school. The worksheet came from […] Classroom Nook, which is not a district-approved resource for materials."

The district also shared Pero's earlier statement.

Pero's said: "In January, a worksheet was used in a fourth-grade class lesson on slavery during colonial times. The worksheet [...] was in no way an accurate depiction of slavery during colonial times and was highly insensitive in tone.

"We immediately met with the staff members involved in this lesson and have taken steps to remedy the situation."

The statement went on: "This will include a re-teaching of the topic of slavery during colonial times and removing this worksheet from student notebooks while providing them with correct, factual information on this subject. Furthermore, we are working with our fourth-grade teachers across the district to be sure this worksheet is not being used in any other classrooms."

Pero also thanked the parent who had complained about the worksheet, and apologized to the parents of the entire class.

Classroom Nook sent a statement to Newsweek on Thursday.

"We were recently made aware of a situation in which an old version of one of our teaching resources conveyed insensitive information about the painful history of slavery in the United States," it said.

"While we discovered that this resource had been modified and used improperly after it was published, we take this incident incredibly seriously and deeply apologize for the tone it set. All of our resources are created with the utmost educational and factual integrity and we encourage them to be used properly.

"This resource has been updated a number of times since it was first developed to honestly represent this dark period in American history, and we have taken the immediate step to remove it from our platform while we further evaluate its accuracy. We encourage anyone holding these older or modified versions to remove them from their plans."

This is not the first time a lesson about slavery has sparked criticism. A similar worksheet was used at a school in the Webster Central School District in New York earlier this year, prompting a rethink of the curriculum.

Three teachers at a Wisconsin middle school resigned this month after setting sixth graders an assignment asking how they would punish slaves.

4/22/21 9.46am E.T.: This article was updated to include statements from Classroom Nook and the Pittsford Central School District.

A Socially Distanced Elementary School Classroom
A socially distanced classroom at Medora Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 17. A school district in upstate New York has apologized for a worksheet about slavery. Jon Cherry/Getty Images