A seventh-grade physical education teacher at Shorewood Intermediate School was temporarily suspended recently for instructing her African American students to develop a “negro-centric” game that enslaved children would have played on a Southern plantation before the Civil War.

The incident occurred as part of a curriculum in which the teacher “shared an activity with students on the subject of games from around the world.” The class participated in the activity on April 1, and allegations reached the school administration by April 3. The Shorewood School District sent a notification letter to parents and guardians on April 11 to explain about the situation. Rich Barak and Ashley Rice from TMJ News reported that:

“Ms. Zehren forced me and my partner to reenact slavery in front of the entire class,” said 7th grader Alexis Averette. “When we told her we were uncomfortable she told us we still had to do it.”

While some students presented dodge ball, others said they were paired up by race and told to reenact slavery games. When Averette and her partner proposed another game, the students say they were told it was too common. When Averette told her parents her mother and father were shocked.

“She came home and she told me she had to reconstruct games ever played during slavery,” said Averette’s father. “Yeah, I was completely shocked. I knew it was a problem immediately when she said she was uncomfortable.”

Averette and several other parents shared their concerns with school officials, and the teacher was eventually escorted out of the building and placed on leave. Identified as Jan Zehren, the instructor taught in the Shorewood School District for 36 years.

“We have placed the teacher on leave, pending the findings of the investigation. We take these allegations extremely serious. Throughout this situation, student safety and well-being have been our top priority. Our school counselor, school psychologist, Dean of Students, and the SIS principal have been providing support to the students who were directly involved in the incident,” wrote Bryan Davis, Shorewood Schools Superintendent.

This latest incident over racial insensitivity comes after the bungled censorship of Shorewood High School’s theatrical performance of To Kill a Mockingbird last October.

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Shorewood Intermediate School and Library of Congress