Former Students Allege ‘Slave Day’ Was Held at Hudson Valley Elementary School
Former students of a local elementary school have detailed an event they call "Slave Day."
Racial tensions are rising in the U.S. after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after suffocating from a white police officer's knee on his neck for over eight minutes. There have been protests in response to his death across the country. These protests have even been happening in the Hudson Valley. The protests have highlighted systemic racism, voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and demanded an end of police brutality.
In addition to the protests in the Hudson Valley, residents have been reflecting on their experiences with race. Alumni from a local school district have been recalling an event from their elementary school experience on social media. Multiple students have alleged that "Slave Day" was held at a Hudson Valley Elementary School.
Former students of Berea Elementary School, part of Valley Central School District (VCSD), allege that "Slave Day" was held for multiple years in the early 2000s. "Slave Day" was allegedly like a game to see how long it took for students, acting as the "slaves" to be "captured" by teachers. This was to learn about the Underground Railroad.
Students have given details about how the alleged "Slave Day" event happened. Former Berea Elementary School student Kristen Valentine said the day allegedly utilized "paper shackles and paper lunch bags with loose leaf stuck inside as our journal to record what happened, where we hid, how long it took us to be 'captured' and who 'captured' us." Valentine said it "felt so wrong."
Emmi Sanchez, a former student at Berea Elementary School, alleges they were not allowed to participate because they were in special education classes. "I wasn't allowed to be involved because I was in special ed at the time."
Students allege that it was treated as a game, but looking back, think it was in poor taste.
A former student at Berea Elementary School, James Negron, said, "They seriously treated the slave trade like a game of hide and seek."
Dominic Kelly, a former student, said, "I have memories of kids getting excited to see who would be slaves and who would be slave catchers. Like it was a game - because they made it into a game."
When Valley Central School District was asked for comment on the alleged events, the district stated they did not authorize the alleged "Slave Day" that occurred from 2002 to 2009. The district states that there was an activity that was designed to replicate the activities of the Underground Railroad which used primary documents. Michael Bellarosa, the deputy superintendent of Schools, said that the district had to research the event in question because it was a prior administration. This activity was discontinued over a decade ago after concerns were brought to the school principal.
The district's full statement is below:
The District wishes to set the record straight regarding the claim that it held a “Slave Day” at Berea Elementary School a number of years ago.
Berea Elementary did not authorize an activity called "Slave Day" as has been alleged. From 2002 to 2009, as one activity of a several week fifth grade unit of study on the Civil War, students travelled between classrooms in a hands on activity designed to replicate the activities of the underground railroad during the Civil War era. The activity utilized primary documents as reference materials and was designed so that students could actively experience the curriculum. The students later wrote about their experience. The purpose of this activity was to gain understanding and appreciation of the efforts by the underground railway during this era. This activity was discontinued more than a decade ago after concerns were brought to the attention of the school principal at the time who determined that this activity, while well-intentioned, might appear insensitive and offensive to members of the school community.
Former student Jalyn Robinson alleges that her father went in and complained to Berea Elementary School about the Underground Railroad activity.
Dominic Kelly added, "I truly feel that had we had any black teachers that wouldn’t have been a thing."
Currently, the mission statement on Berea Elementary School's website reads in part "We believe that it is a shared responsibility among Berea’s stakeholders to foster positive academic, emotional, social, and physical growth in a nurturing risk-free environment. Diversity will be celebrated, creating students who respect one another and embrace differences."