LAMAR COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - Dozens of community members gathered for an emergency meeting at Purvis Middle School Thursday night in response to a student assignment that has sparked outrage.
The meeting was called Thursday after pictures of an assignment titled “Slave Letter Writing Activity” spread on social media, stirring anger and prompting calls for answers from parents and community members.
“We need more black teachers,” said Warren Gray, a concerned Purvis resident who attended the meeting. “We need more black people on staff. We also need black people to come together.”
Lamar County School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Hampton said district administrators learned the activity had been assigned to eighth grade students during a Mississippi history class Wednesday.
Hampton said the teacher who assigned the activity did not have malicious intent.
Hampton said the assignment shown in the screenshot was the last slide in a 12-slide PowerPoint presentation about the “atrocities and negatives of slavery.”
“The delivery was not well and not good,” Hampton said. “And we are doing an investigation to make sure that we appropriately address that.”
One solution proposed by parents at the meeting was for teacher assignments outside of the curriculum to be checked and approved by the school district before being taught to students.
On Thursday, WDAM obtained screenshots of a statement sent to parents by Purvis Middle School Principal Frank Bunnell.
In his statement, Bunnell says, “Without the previous PowerPoint slides, the assignment portrays the evil practice of slavery with an extremely mild view.”
The statement goes on to say, “That was not intended. However, intent does not excuse anything. There is no excuse to downplay a practice that (even after abolished) spurs unjust laws, unfair economic practices, inhumane treatment and suppression of a people.”
Bunnell tells parents steps have been taken to ensure “racially insensitive assignments like this are completely eliminated” from course work at Purvis Middle School.
“I truly understand the words I say as a principal do not carry any weight without action,” Burnell says in the statement. “As a leader, I apologize for something like this happening under my watch. Steps have already been taken to make sure it never happens again.”
He also asks parents to “continue holding schools and businesses accountable for grievous errors like this one.”
According to Hampton, the teacher has been addressed by school and district administrators.