By Albert Lin
Sarah Robinson/The Selma Times-Journal
An elementary school teacher has been suspended without pay for having her class reenact the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.
The sixth-grade teacher at Brantley Elementary School in Selma, Ala., was not named and the length of her suspension was not specified. But Dallas County School System Superintendent Don Willingham did say that the teacher would be returning to her classroom.
Willingham initially suspended the teacher with pay, but when he learned that a second reenactment, of Martin’s shooting, was involved, he increased the punishment.
“I think she made a mistake by going that far in the discussion,” Willingham told The Selma Times-Journal. “In that situation, we felt like she used poor judgment. There are consequences that we have for it, but that does not change our opinion of her as a teacher.”
The reenactments were part of a discussion of current events. The teacher asked the students to research and reenact a recent event, and Willingham said the majority of the class picked the Brown and Martin shootings.
The reenactments first came to light when Jessica Baughn, the mother of a student in the class, posted an account on the Sound Off Selma Facebook page.
I am absolutely shocked by what my 6th grade child come home telling me that happened in school (Brantley Elementary). His teacher made them reenact the two current shooting of the young black male’s… The white students had to play the police officer. She even has them get on the internet and research how many times the young man was shot where he was shot at. That is absurd to me then you turn around and make them reenact every bit of it including the shooting…Then sit in class and tells them our black children can not walk in their own neighborhood without white people shooting them and she hated to sound racist but whatever…. Sounds like someone’s racist to me, and to me they are teaching these children to hate one another when we’re supposed to be teaching them to love one another…
The students drew paper guns and used wadded-up paper bullets, and Baughn said her son, Jimmy Griffin, who is white, was asked to play the role of Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Brown.
“I don’t think that it needs to be talked about at school at all, let alone reenacted,” Baughn told the Times-Journal. “It scares me as a parent, because any one of those children could have picked up their aunt, uncle, grandma or whoever’s gun and pointed it at another child and it went off accidentally.”
“They actually shot them out of this made gun,” Baughn told WSFA-TV of Montgomery, Ala. “The child falls on the ground like he’s dead.”
Baughn also said that her son told her that the teacher, who is Black, told Black students that they cannot walk in their own neighborhoods without being shot by white people.
According to the school’s website, Brantley Elementary serves a rural area of Dallas County in central Alabama and has a student population that is 69 percent Black and 31 percent white. Ninety-three percent of the students are on the free or reduced-price lunch program.
Willingham interviewed Baughn, Griffin, the teacher and Brantley Principal Audrey Larkin Strong before rendering his initial verdict. The additional punishment came after he talked with more students in the class.
“Brantley’s culture does not support division,” Strong said. “We do recognize diversity, but we do not support division. Our culture is a strong culture.”