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Viera High teacher forces students to “have fun” reenacting being on a slave ship to see how it feels

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A video has surfaced of a Brevard Public Schools Viera High American History teacher forcing his students to reenact conditions of living on a slave ship. In the video, the teacher has his students lay down next to each other on the concrete, and draw crime scene-like chalk outlines around their bodies. In his Facebook post memorializing the incident, he says it’s an “innovative hands on approach” and the kids “have fun” understanding the conditions related to slave ship voyages.

That teacher is none other than Brevard Public School Board Chair Matt Susin. We found the video after hearing comments made by Susin in another video just a few weeks ago where he was speaking to new teachers to Brevard. During that video, he instructs the new teachers to think outside the box, and “ask for permission after you do it” and he will support them. He encouraged them to ask for forgiveness instead of permission, and then went on to give several very questionable examples of him doing just that.

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He brings up his slave ship reenactment, building an entire Vietnam Village out in front of the school without permission, and digging six 100 foot trenches reenacting battles of World War I. He says he got in trouble for all those things, and that police were even called at one point, but still encouraged the new teachers to follow suit.

During that same video, Susin goes on to explain how he was given the “dumb kids” to teach, and they were “idiots.” Susin knew that he was being videoed by Brevard Public Schools during this entire speech. It’s not clear if the students in this video are the ones he was referring to.

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Back to the Slave Ship

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In the slave ship video, it is being voiced-over by one of Susin’s students explaining the process and the rationale behind it. He inaccurately states that the slave ship voyage took between 2-4 weeks, which is not remotely close to reality. The slave ship voyages referenced took several months. The video also states that part of the intent was to show students how it “felt” to be a slave in those conditions, and to remind them if they think they are having a hard time, to remember how slaves felt.

Last year, Governor DeSantis signed the Stop W.O.K.E Act which instituted a ban on teaching students to ‘feel guilt’ for history. The bill was pushed by the Senator and now Education Commissioner Manny Diaz. The bill previously said instruction cannot make people feel “discomfort” for their race or sex, which drew widespread concern that it could lead to schools desensitizing historical events such as Jim Crow, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II or the Stonewall riots. However, that language was changed to now prohibit instruction that someone “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” for their race or sex.

One could make a strong case that Susin’s teaching did just that. And worse, they did that without even remotely accurately portraying the horrid conditions of an actual slave ship. Again, Susin is actively encouraging new Brevard teachers to follow his lead and example.

Matt Susin is currently running for re-election, and this is just the latest in a litany of missteps and controversial actions he’s taken since being chosen to be the chair by the newly elected school board. Susin, a Republican is running unopposed currently, but he wasn’t always a Republican.

According to his voter registration records, Susin was a Democrat when he first ran for election which he lost badly. Brevard County is overwhelmingly a dominant Republican county. So the next year Susin changed his voter registration and ran as a Republican and won. He’s ran as a Republican ever since.

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