As a teacher, there are some things you just don’t do. Holding a mock slave auction in your classroom is one of them.
Jessica Boyle, a fourth grade teacher at Sewells Point Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia divided her class according to race and held a mock slave auction on April 1 as part of her lesson on the Civil War. She sent black and mixed race students to one side of the classroom and then allowed the white students to take turns buying them.
According to The Washington Post, Boyle’s classroom is roughly 40% white and 40% black.
(More on TIME.com: See portraits of the men, women and children who fought in the Civil War)
The school only learned of the exercise after complaints from parents started rolling in.
In a letter to parents on April 6, the school’s principal, Mary Wrushen, wrote, “I recently became aware of a history lesson that was presented to the students in Ms. Jessica Boyle’s fourth grade class. Although her actions were well intended to meet the instructional objectives, the activity presented was inappropriate for the students.”
She continued, “The lesson could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation.”
But Boyle’s lesson is not an isolated incident. Last month, an elementary school teacher near Columbus, Ohio divided a fourth grade class into slaves and masters. And, as the Washington Post reports, lessons on the Civil War have long been among the most sensitive topics covered in the classroom, especially in Virginia where many of the Confederacy’s bloodiest battles were fought. Which shows, even as the U.S. marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, some wounds are still fresh and some topics — and classroom exercises — are still (rightly) off-limits.
(More on TIME.com: Read our cover story, “The Civil War, 150 Years On: Why the U.S. Is Still Fighting Over Its Legacy”)
(More on TIME.com: See photos of rare Civil War artifacts.)
(More on TIME.com: See photos of Civil War re-enactors.)