A group of teachers in the Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin have been suspended after they assigned social studies homework asking middle schoolers how they would punish slaves if they disobeyed. Parents were outraged, and the fact that it was the first day of Black History Month did not go unnoticed.
The school quickly apologized for the incident to parents and students. That coincided with the immediate suspension of the small group of teachers who made the egregious mistake, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The assignment was used in their remote learning program and sixth-graders at Patrick Marsh Middle School were asked to answer how they would handle the following scenario: “A slave stands before you. This slave has disrespected his master by telling him “You are not my master!” How will you punish this slave?”
Screenshots of the assignment went viral on social media on Monday. Many were stunned by the timing of it all.
The assignment went even further, citing Hammurabi’s Code. It stated that a slave was to be put to death for insubordination in ancient Mesopotamia.
Ironically, Kenosha News reported that the wording of the assignment “matches a $4 lesson from Teachers Pay Teachers, a website where educators can buy and sell education materials.” It appears the lesson was purchased, not reviewed, and then was given to the students. The question has also shown up on flashcards and in a Michigan school district last month.
Principal Rebecca Zahn and Associate Principal Amy Schernecker released a statement after the incident. Their justification for the assignment was that it was meant to “help students understand how order was kept in the early civilization, how the laws that were developed, and how unjust they were.”
The whole unfortunate occurrence rated a second statement being released by the school’s Superintendent Brad Saron, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning, and Equity Stephanie Leonard-Witte, and Assistant Superintendent for Operations Janet Rosseter. They were succinct in their apology: “We are writing today to apologize for a grave error in judgment that occurred during sixth-grade social studies instruction at Patrick Marsh Middle School.”
“A small group of our teachers developed and used an activity that was neither racially conscious nor aligned to our district mission, vision, values, curriculum, or district equity statement,” the statement read.
“Once we learned of this activity, we immediately stopped any further teaching of the lesson and promptly began an investigation. In our preliminary findings, we have determined the lesson was not a part of our district curriculum and therefore, no student should participate in or complete the assignment,” it continued.
“To be clear, this lesson is not consistent with the School Board’s vision for this school district, our commitment to equity and cultural responsiveness, or the development opportunities we have invested in our staff.”
The statements did not entirely satisfy parents.
Dazarrea Ervins is one of those parents. She was the one who notified the school district of the assignment. The shocked mother angrily decried it on Facebook: “First day of Black History Month and this was issued to my 6th grader at Patrick Marsh Middle School!!!”
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” stated Ervins. According to the New York Post, she said her son Zayvion showed her the assignment with a “weird look on his face that I’ve never seen before.”
“I can see how they’re learning about this era, but the wording of the question and the statement — it was just wrong,” she added.
Her son was also offended: “It made me think of how they would treat me if I was in-person, in class. What would they think of me, and would they treat me like I was an outsider and make me feel scared and unsafe?”
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