A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Public Schools and a teacher who gave students an assignment called “Let’s Make a Slave” during Black History Month last year.
The assignment was given at Waverly Belmont Elementary School and was based on a Willie Lynch speech from the 1700s in which the West Indian plantation owner instructed white Virginia colonists how to break and control enslaved people.
The lawsuit was filed last fall by a Nashville family on behalf of their son, referred to as “John Doe,” who is Black and has autism, the Nashville Tennessean reports.
In the suit, Doe’s family said the “wild graphic and inappropriate” lesson caused physical and emotional harm to their child, who was in fourth grade at the time of the incident. They also said the student was terrified that his family could be broken apart and that he could be sold into slavery.
Additionally, the family said in the lawsuit that the school district was indifferent to the racial harassment the student suffered from peers and adults following the lesson.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger dismissed the case Monday, stating that “While the lesson in question may well have been especially inappropriate for John Doe as a student with a known disability, and even developmentally inappropriate for all fourth graders, that does not mean that its educational content constituted actionable harassment on the basis of race.”
According to legal precedent set by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, teasing must be “systematic” or “pervasive” to be considered harassment. According to Trauger, the extend of the teasing wasn’t made clear in the complaint.
Outrage erupted from community and city leaders over the dehumanizing assignment, asking for stronger oversight and policy in a district where the student body is nearly 70% Black and Brown, the Tennessean reports.
The student-teacher from Vanderbilt University who led the lesson, was fired from Metro Nashville Public Schools following the incident. The teacher supervising the lesson, Andrew Herman, was placed on administrative leave but has since returned to his job.