Attorney General James Announces Agreement With The Chapel School Following Teacher's Mock “Slave Auction” 

School Will Be Required To Hire a Chief Diversity Officer, Create a Staff Diversification Plan, and Increase Financial Aid to Maintain a Diverse Student Body 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James today announced an agreement with The Chapel School to ensure equal educational access for students regardless of race and to provide all students at the school an environment free of harassment and discrimination. The agreement was reached after a teacher held mock “slave auctions” for two fifth-grade classes. The school is required to make significant changes to its approach to diversity and inclusion.  

“Every young person – regardless of race – deserves the chance to attend school free of harassment, bias, and discrimination,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Lessons designed to separate children on the basis of race have no place in New York classrooms, or in classrooms throughout this country. I thank The Chapel School for agreeing to take measures that directly address the issues of race, diversity and inclusion at the school. My office will continue efforts to promote safe environments where all students can learn and thrive.” 

The Attorney General began to investigate the school, a private Lutheran school located in Bronxville, after receiving a report alleging that a teacher there twice conducted reenactments of a slave auction, ostensibly as part of a curriculum on colonial America. The investigation sought to determine whether the school’s policies, curriculum, oversight of teachers, and practices for student enrollment and staff hiring either discriminated against students on the basis of race, or created a hostile environment for students of color at the school.   

The investigation found that in March, in two separate fifth-grade social studies classes, a teacher asked all of the African-American students in each class to raise their hands, and then instructed them to exit the classroom and stand in the hallway.  The teacher then placed imaginary chains or “shackles,” on these students’ necks, wrists, and ankles, and had them walk back into the classroom. The teacher then instructed the African-American students to line up against the wall, and proceeded to conduct a simulated auction of the African-American students in front of the rest of the class. These “auctions” reenacted the sale of African-American students to their white counterparts. The investigation found that the teacher’s reenactments in the two classes had a profoundly negative effect on all of the students present – especially the African-American students – and the school community at large. Following the reenactments, the school terminated the teacher’s employment. The investigation further revealed prior parental complaints to school administrators about the school’s lack of racial sensitivity, pre-dating the classroom reenactments, as well as concerns that the school did not take sufficient steps to address the complaints. The investigation disclosed that families had previously made complaints relating to, among other things, unequal discipline of students on the basis of race, a lack of racial sensitivity and awareness in school curricula, and a lack of diversity among the teaching faculty. 

The agreement entered into between the Attorney General and the school requires the school to do the following: 

  • Hire a Chief Diversity Officer, subject to the Attorney General’s approval; 
  • Develop and submit a Staff Diversification Plan proposing steps the school will take annually to increase minority representation among the school’s teaching faculty; 
  • Commit new financial aid to maintain and increase diversity within the student body; 
  • Submit a new Code of Conduct, subject to the Attorney General’s approval, governing all school community members and specifically addressing racial and ethnic discrimination and harassment, as well as other prohibited behaviors; 
  • Submit a School Discipline Reform Plan, intended to ensure equal application of disciplinary techniques to all students, with an emphasis on providing constructive feedback and teaching alternative or replacement behaviors to students; 
  • Identify and retain a Diversity Consultant to assist the school in developing training protocols to train students and school employees on racial/ethnic diversity and sensitivity in the educational setting, with training to follow no less than twice per academic year; 
  • Create a formal complaint procedure that students or parents may use to notify the school of complaints regarding harassment or discrimination, and publicize the new procedure to school community members; and  
  • Maintain records of complaints, investigations of complaints, and the implementation of other elements of relief in the agreement. 

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Justin Deabler of the Civil Rights Bureau, under the supervision of Acting Bureau Chief Elena Goldstein. The Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. 

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