An Ohio charter school that emphasizes African history and culture gave gin to elementary school students as part of a Ghanian right of passage.
Four students, sixth graders of about age 12, were given a teaspoon of gin mixed with water in a graduation ceremony modeled on a Ghanian rite of passage event, said Kwa David Whitaker, a Phoenix Village Academy official.
The ritual was intended to teach truthfulness, said Whitaker, who oversaw the Tuesday ceremony.
The students were blindfolded, giving them the uncertain feeling that goes with moving from one stage of life to another, he said. Each student was given a teaspoon of water and a teaspoon of the gin-water mix, and then asked to identify which one contained water.
The students recognized that the gin was not water and spit it out before swallowing, Whitaker said. The point is to teach the children to be honest, he said.
The Ohio Department of Education plans to investigate and will be contacting school officials, agency spokeswoman Karla Carruthers said. Charter schools are privately run schools that receive public money.
Parents at the graduation ceremony saw the gin bottle and knew students would be served a small amount of alcohol, Whitaker said.
Whitaker said alcohol would not be used in future ceremonies.
"We could have put pepper in the water," he said. "If someone is concerned about it, obviously it is not the best thing to do."
Candie Nelson, whose 13-year-old son participated in the ritual, said she had no objection.
"It's part of an ancestral African tradition," she said. "It's not like you're drinking 100 proof alcohol here."
The year-old Phoenix Village Academy has about 40 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and is operated by the Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center, which is headed by Whitaker.