Corrie Davis said her son was called a slave by another boy during Civil War dress-up day at Big Shanty Elementary. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Parents angry at Cobb school about Civil War dress-up day

The parents of a Cobb County fifth-grader are angry at the school district for allowing students to dress up for “Civil War Day.”

Corrie Davis was aware of the curriculum because her older son attended Big Shanty Elementary School in Kennesaw three years ago. At the time, the older son decided to stay home rather than dress up because of the inherent issues with being black and the Civil War.

This time, her fifth-grader didn’t want to miss out on a day to see his friends and be social at school, she said.

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Cobb County School District spokesman John Stafford said the fifth-grade students “were given the option to dress in period attire, but no student was told they had to dress up and they didn’t have to dress in any particular way.”

Davis brought it up to both Assistant Principal Niles Yates and Principal Kelly Luscre before the history lesson started, saying, “Here we go again,” but the school leaders gave students the options of not dressing up or staying home — and a third option: going to the library instead of class.

“I don’t dislike the people or the school,” Davis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I chose the teachers specifically and they’ve been awesome. This is a curriculum issue.”

However, asking fifth-graders to dress up for a war “simulation,” as the class was invited to do, sets them up for failure, she said.

“Toward the end of school break last week, my son walked over and said, ‘Mom, something happened at school.’”

Davis said her stomach dropped when he told her how one of her son’s friends, a white child, said he was dressed as a plantation owner.

When her son, who is black, asked why he would dress that way, the friend said, “We had to dress up so I’m a plantation owner and you’re my slave.”

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As soon as classes were back in session Monday, Davis called and asked for a meeting.

As a woman who holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in education, Davis said she understands curriculum and has no problem with “experiential learning” activities such as visiting the traveling museum held within the school.

“During the meeting, I asked about dressing for the Holocaust and they acted like that was absurd,” Davis said. “There is a visceral reaction.”

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After the first meeting, the mother reached out to the school superintendent, the father wrote a letter to the principals and another meeting was set up with the school leaders.

During a second meeting Thursday morning, the parents expected an apology and some effort to change the curriculum.

Instead, Davis said the principals defended the curriculum and said no other parents had complained.

“They’ve done the same things for 20 years, but how they teach has to be updated with the times,” Davis said. “Just because you’ve done something for many years doesn’t mean it’s effective in 2017.” 

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