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Georgia School Math Assignment References Slavery, Beatings

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File photo of elementary school students. (credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

File photo of elementary school students. (credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

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NORCROSS, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – Figuring out how many oranges were picked by slaves and how many beatings per day Frederick Douglass received was allowed to help teach elementary students their multiplication and division tables at one school.

Administrators at Gwinnett County School District are sorting through the fallout from parents of children who brought home math homework last week that referenced slavery and beatings.

On Wednesday, nine third-grade math teachers at Beaver Ridge Elementary School were attempting to do a cross-curricular activity with a book the children had read about abolitionist Frederick Douglass in their social studies class. District spokeswoman Sloan Roach told CBS Atlanta that the math problems in the assignment involved some of what the students learned about Douglass. Four of the nine classes wound up sending the assignment home with the students. But when some parents were going over the students’ homework, they became appalled at the nature and language of two questions in particular.

The first asked, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” The other said, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

Upon learning of the assignment, the school’s principal collected the assignment sheets that were still at school.

“We’ve been working with human resources to determine what staff development is needed for the teachers and what actions may be warranted,” Roach said. “The principal is addressing parent concerns as he’s meeting with them.”

Roach added that the school district has no reason to believe that there was any intent to the racially-infused, cross-curricular questions. The district is working with the school to develop other cross-curricular activities and assignments but will be determining what kind of staff development is necessary to move forward on that initiative. The investigation remains ongoing.

“Frankly, they were just bad questions,” Roach said.

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