NEW ORLEANS – The president of Grambling State University said Friday that he will seek sanctions against five teachers who participated in a lesson on race relations that included placing a noose around the neck of a child at a predominantly black, on-campus elementary school.
"We have a strong understanding of what happened and are taking swift steps to ensure nothing of this nature occurs again," Horace Judson said in a statement. "It is regrettable and unfortunate that elementary students were participants in an activity that was inappropriate and showed lack of judgment."
Committees will consider a range of possible sanctions, including dismissal, leave without pay or a written reprimand.
It wasn't clear how soon the decisions would be reached or if all the teachers were still working at the university-run Alma J. Brown Elementary. At least one teacher had been placed on leave with pay earlier in the week.
Debra Johnson, a Grambling spokeswoman, said that, for legal reasons, the names of the teachers would not be released while their cases were under review.
Grambling's College of Education will review the school's practices, and officials plan changes including teacher training on "instructional improvement" and encouraging staff to report inappropriate conduct, the university said.
The Sept. 20 lesson on racism involved a noose placed around a young girl's neck. The lesson, involving kindergarten and first-grade students, coincided with a civil rights march about 100 miles away in Jena, La.
Photos, including several displaying the noose, were on the Web site of The Gramblinite, the university's student newspaper until Sept. 28 before there were complaints from readers who found them offensive. Editor in chief De'Eric Henry said he had "two or three" photos taken down.
Later that day, Judson ordered the rest of the photos and the story removed, a move Henry called censorship.
Johnson defended the order as an effort to protect the children in the photos. She said administrators hadn't heard from parents but from others around the country, "and there were a lot of questions of, Why is racism being taught?" She said that, from Grambling's perspective, the subject and manner in which it was taught would not have been geared toward this age group. Johnson said the school's principal did not approve the lesson plan.
The Gramblinite reported that teachers explained the symbolism of a noose and let students carry shackles and chains, also symbols of oppression. The children that day also held their own march for equality at the school, with some carrying signs supporting black teens — known as the Jena Six — charged in the beating of a white student at Jena High School last year.
Billy Sibley, assistant professor of developmental psychology at Southern University in Baton Rouge, said children as young as the kindergartners and first graders probably would not be traumatized by having a noose around the neck unless they had seen someone injured or killed that way. With nothing in the children's lives to connect to nooses, "it may have seemed like a game or something."
Sibley said children that age are too young to understand racism, however it is explained — and, in most cases, even if they experience it, Sibley said.
"To them, at this point, it's just another child being mean at them. But the reasons behind it, I don't think they would be able to fully understand it at this point."