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East Lansing teacher placed on leave over slavery assignment returns to classroom

MacDonald Middle School
Posted at 4:55 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 20:54:28-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A MacDonald Middle School social studies teacher placed on leave after parents and students complained about assignments on slavery has returned to the classroom following an investigation.

Matthew Christians gave an assignment to eighth grade students in February that asked them to imagine themselves as enslaved people.

East Lansing Public Schools officials were later made aware of another assignment Christians gave in 2012 that required students to argue the positives of slavery.

Christians was placed on leave April 23 while the district conducted an investigation. On Monday, he returned to the classroom.

"To our families and students, both present and past, we apologize for the harm this assignment caused and are committed to providing a safe and inclusive learning environment for all of our students," said Superintendent Dori Leyko. "We welcome feedback on how we can better accomplish this goal and invite individuals, groups, and local organizations to collaborate with us on this ongoing work."

What did the investigation find?

Leyko said the investigation looked into both the 2012 and 2021 assignments.

It found the 2012 assignment was first used in 2012 and has not been used since.

The 2021 assignment has been used since 2006 as part of an in-class activity and was modified this year to be used remotely. The remote version included slightly different images and prompts than the original assignment that had been part of the district's board approved middle school curriculum.

In March, the assignment was removed from Google Classroom and all students received full credit whether they chose to complete it or not.

An apology by teachers, a class discussion and an optional written response prompt were completed in all eighth grade social studies classes.

Where to go from here

"We maintain that the responsibility and accountability for this assignment being given to our students lies with all levels, and our steps to repair the harm we’ve caused and improve our practices for the future are reflective of this shared responsibility," Leyko said.

Leyko said that neither that assignment nor any like it will be used again.

Christians will participate in diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice training this summer and in the future.

The district will also create a committee of Black parents, community members and students to evaluate and recommend alternative Black history assignments to be used next school year and possibly in future years.

All eighth grade social studies teachers will be asked to complete a course through the Justice Leaders Collaborative that aims to deepen their understanding of equity and inclusion.

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