Teacher Suspended Over Assignment Asking If Slave Trade Is Profitable

A teacher in Pennsylvania has been suspended for assigning an "offensive and unacceptable" question about slavery to students.

The South Fayette Township School District said the social studies teacher, who has not been named, was suspended from duties after a student alerted the administration.

As reported by KDKA, 10th graders were asked: "Is the slave trade profitable?" The assignment asked the teenagers to imagine themselves as retired British Navy captains and work out "if the trading of Africans can be profitable" depending on what "pack" they used to transport the slaves.

"One of the benefits of having a tight pack would be you would get more people over, but one of the disadvantages is a lot of people would die from sickness and all of that," Aliyah Emanuel told KDKA. "We had to determine which would be more beneficial and which would make more money.

"It was just very uncomfortable because I was the only person of color in my class," she added.

In a letter to parents and guardians, the South Fayette Township School District said that although there is a defined and approved curriculum, teachers have some freedom to choose materials and resources used in lessons.

"Once alerted to the existence of this assignment, the administration reviewed the assignment and met with the teacher. After taking these steps it was determined that the assignment is inappropriate, offensive and unacceptable," the letter said.

"The assignment will no longer be used in any class and the teacher has been suspended. Further, we will engage in a systematic process to ensure that any other inappropriate assignments are identified and removed immediately."

Parents also described their outrage after hearing how the topic of slavery was being covered in class.

"If you're going to teach my child, I need you to try to have some sort of empathy about what she's going through," Sarah Emanuel, Aliyah's mother, told Pittsburgh's Action News 4.

"And if you're going to have an assignment about selling people and referring to her as cargo and how much money could you get for my child, try to put a dollar amount on my child, I have a big problem with that."

Leigh Hill, the mother of another teenager who was given the assignment, told KDKA: "It's just shocking that my son had to sit in class and figure out the price that his ancestors were bought and sold for."

In the letter announcing the teacher's suspension, Ken Lockette, superintendent of schools, commended the student for speaking up and apologized "for the harm that this has caused."

He added: "The voices of our young people are important and heard."

File photo of a school desk. A teacher in Pennsylvania has been suspended over an "unacceptable" question about slavery given to students. Maja Hitij/Getty Images