Teachers Suspended For Asking Children How They Would Punish Slaves in Class Assignment

A "small group" of teachers have been placed on leave in Wisconsin after a class of sixth-graders were asked how they would punish a slave during an online assignment.

The Sun Prairie Area School District apologized to parents for the "grave error" after complaints were made about the question posed on the first day of Black History Month.

The assignment asked the students at Patrick Marsh Middle School how they would punish a slave who had "disrespected his master by telling him, 'You are not my master!'"

The question notes that under Hammurabi's Code, a set of ancient laws from Mesopotamia times, the slave would be put to death.

In a statement from Patrick Marsh Middle School to parents, Principal Rebecca Zahn and Associate Principal Amy Schernecker said the purpose of the activity was to "help students understand how order was kept in the early civilization, how the laws that were developed, and how unjust they were."

Screenshots of the question were shared on social media by irate parents on Monday.

Dazarrea Ervins, whose son Zayvion Hopkins was given the assignment, said the sixth-grader had a look in his face which suggested "I don't want to do this" after reading the question.

"I was like, 'What the heck?'" Ervins told Channel 3000. "It's very offensive and it's inappropriate and I feel like it's ignorant."

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As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the wording of the question matches a $4 lesson from Teachers Pay Teachers, a website where educators can buy and sell education materials. It is unknown if the school is allowed to use the site as a resource, but the Sun Prairie Area School District confirmed that the assignment was not a part of the curriculum.

Teachers Pay Teachers has since removed the lesson from its website. "This resource was unacceptable, inappropriate, and antithetical to TpT's values," a spokesperson told the Wisconsin State Journal.

"I didn't believe it was real, to be honest with you," Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, added to Channel 3000.

"For this to happen on the first day of Black History Month, given all the training I've been told teachers have gone through, I think this was bad judgment," Johnson said.

"I was surprised it was multiple teachers involved. Someone should've been able to see this and say from their cultural competency lens that this is unacceptable."

In a joint statement to parents, Patrick Marsh Middle School Superintendent Brad Saron, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Equity Stephanie Leonard-Witte, and Janet Rosseter, Assistant Superintendent for Operations, said: "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.

"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.

"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 Sun Prairie Area School District has been contacted for further comment.

(File photo) James Shaw, an employee of Twinkl, prepares online teaching materials at his home on January 07, 2021 in Stoke on Trent, England. Teachers have been put on leave after they assigned a question about how the sixth-graders would punish slaves. Nathan Stirk/Getty