CUYAHOGA FALLS — A teacher who gave eighth-graders at Roberts Middle School an "ice breaker" assignment that stirred debate "had a letter placed" in his personnel file, said Superintendent Todd Nichols.
The letter, dated Aug. 30, confirms the assignment was given to three seventh-grade classes and an eighth-grade class. According to the letter, this had been the third year the teacher had given this assignment. The teacher, in an Aug. 27 talk with administrators, reportedly acknowledged that he wondered if he "did not clarify the assignment enough for the students." The assignment was mean to be an ice breaker, with the intent that the classes would "reach consensus that we all have different cultural backgrounds and need to be aware that there are stereotypes that need to be broken down."
"Please be advised that we have serious concerns regarding the contents of the assignment relative to the age of the students to whom it was represented," stated the letter, which was signed by Nichols. "Additionally, this situation resulted in a significant disruption to the educational process in our district and community."
The assignment, "Whom to Leave Behind," tasks students with ranking passengers "from 1 to 12 based on those who you feel are most deserving to make the trip." Students were tasked with choosing eight out of the 12 passengers to board a space ship, with Earth being "doomed for destruction." The exercise was meant to foster a discussion of diversity and featured characters with various personnel traits including race, sexual orientation and religion, among others.
During the Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education meeting Sept. 5, Board member David Martin asked if there were policies that could have prevented the incident, which elicited strong responses on social media, some speaking in favor of the assignment and some saying it was not age appropriate.
"I believe the intent was to break the ice, and have some discussions on the stereotypes that are out there," Martin said. "I have run into people who thought this was not age appropriate, I have run into people who thought the descriptions of the people were bad, and I have run into people who didn’t mind the assignment. I don’t mind controversial assignments; it allows people to find common ground. But this assignment came from a college assignment."
Nichols said there are policies in place about assignments.
"It’s impossible for every assignment to be scrutinized before they go out," Nichols said. "We need to follow those pieces [of policy] we have in place. We need to scrutinize what we put in front of the kids. That said, the intent was wholesome, and to a degree we have to have these discussions. Our kids are exposed to a lot more than we ever were."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC