A coloring assignment sent home to an Atlantic Beach Elementary second grader during Black History Month featuring minstrel caricatures of African-Americans, blackface and a lynching has prompted an investigation by the Duval County school system.
“It was just highly inappropriate use of imaging for coloring for second graders,” said James Hill, father of a student who received the material.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the materials “raised immediate concerns that warranted an investigation.”
It’s unclear how many students received the material.
The assignment came from the website edHelper.com, which said the materials were suitable for eighth- and ninth-graders.
Hill’s son’s second-grade teacher is Teresa Flores.
Flores has not returned emails for comment.
Hill said he and his wife, who is the “room parent” in Flores’ class, don’t hold the teacher responsible for the assignment. He said he believed the assignment either “snuck” by Flores or was handed out by an assistant. Instead, he blames edHelper.com for the material.
“Any scene depicting a murder of any kind just seems inappropriate for coloring,” he said.
EdHelper.com, which has not returned inquiries for comment, does not identify the assignment as a coloring exercise. The 13-page document uses drawings and text to address the history of slavery and Jim Crow, a term used for what was once government-sanctioned segregation in the South.
Vitti said the district’s policy allows for teachers to use outside resources for instruction as long as it aligns with the standards.
EdHelper.com faced criticism in 2011 for a lesson given to some Georgia third-graders on immigration. One of the lesson’s questions asked how the U.S. deals with “illegal aliens.” Among the multiple choice answers were the U.S. kills them, another said the U.S. shoots them into outer space.
Hill said he and his wife aren’t sure who provided the material to his son or how many students received the assignment.
In early February, the couple emailed their concerns to Atlantic Beach principal Kimberley Wright about the issue. Hill said the principal responded the next day that the matter was under investigation.
Wright did not return a call to the Times-Union for comment.
The investigation began on Tuesday after Melissa Nelson, whom Hill’s wife showed the assignment to, sent an email to Vitti and all seven School Board members.
“It’s crude, it’s disgusting,” Nelson said, whose granddaughter is a fourth-grader at the school. “It’s everything we don’t want to teach our children. You’re suppose to have children color this man hanging in the tree?”
Nelson said the school and Flores are both responsible for ensuring appropriate materials are used with students.
Elnora Atkins, chairwoman of the education committee for the local NAACP branch, said the material was offensive and wasn’t age appropriate.
“I didn’t know they still did things like that in schools in today,” Atkins said. “Even though it happened you can still portray it and not be as negative as these pictures.”
The investigation, Vitti said, should conclude early next week and a recommendation should come no later than the School Board’s April meeting.
“The greater community can expect swift and fair disciplinary action once I receive and review the complete investigation,” he said.
Hill said he just wants there to be a system that ensures younger students have age-appropriate instructional material.