A school district in Massachusetts is apologizing after sharing with families a photo of white students leading a black classmate on a leash as part of a visit to a historic plantation.
The incident happened last week after third graders from the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District went on a visit to a museum that replicates the historic Plimouth Plantation, the New York Post reported. A photo shared afterward by one of the teachers showed two white third-grade students holding the black classmate on what was known as “leading strings,” which the New York Post noted was an example of 17th century clothing.
The photo had many parents up in arms at what appeared to be an insensitive display and a degrading moment for the black student, and this week the district issued an apology.
Derek Swanson, the district’s superintendent, told parents that the field trip was supposed to show students the real clothing worn by people in the 17th century — which for young children often meant being tethered to adults.
“Through our investigation, it was explained by the Director of Education from Plimoth Plantation that a portion of the lesson focused on 17th century attire — particularly the garments worn by parents, children, toddlers and infants,” Swanson said in a statement posted to the district’s Facebook page this week. “Specifically the garment worn by toddlers commonly used tethering straps to assist them when learning to walk.”
The fact that it was a black child tied to the rope and that white classmates were holding the tether was coincidental, Swenson clarified.
Rob Kliun, a spokesperson for the museum, added that the photo failed to show the context of the field trip, and that he was disappointed at the distress it caused.
This photo of a black student on a "leash" held by two white students was shared thousands of times https://t.co/AhsAcwW03F
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) October 19, 2017
Some of those commenting on the picture and apology seemed to understand the context, noting that it may have been some unfortunate optics but that there was no malice behind the picture. Others were upset at the embarrassment it may have inadvertently caused any of the children seen in the photo.
But the damage may already have been done. The picture of the white students leading a black student by what appeared to be a leash had already gone viral, garnering close to 10,000 shares in the few days since it was posted. It had also been picked up by outlets like Buzzfeed News and gained many shares on social media.
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