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Sun Prairie families demand action over pointing fingers, following ‘slave’ controversy at middle school

Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 10:42 PM CST
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SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) - The question of liability has fingers pointing in many directions, as the Sun Prairie Area School District seeks “to address the harm” caused by a controversial history assignment earlier this week.

According to the district, 6th grade teachers at Patrick Marsh Middle School issued an assignment about ancient Mesopotamian law on Monday. One of the questions asked, “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?”

Teachers got the assignment from a website called Teachers Pay Teachers, according to a district spokesperson.

The platform does not create but shares content written by thousands of teacher-authors. A site spokesperson declined an interview but wrote, “This resource was unacceptable, inappropriate, and antithetical to TpT’s values.”

She added, “As soon as we were made aware of this resource, we immediately removed it from the site.”

However, district officials say removal was only a part of their demands. They also want a public apology for “originating and monetizing” on the assignment.”

Others believe the website was not at fault.

B’Ivory LaMarr, the attorney representing the family of Zayvion Hopkins who first publicly criticized the assignment, said Teachers Pay Teachers is a third party.

“One thing that is for certain is that Sun Prairie pays the teachers that were involved in this direct action,” LaMarr said. “Therefore the liability lies with them [district officials]. We believe they are vicariously liable just as any other company when you have employees that deviate and cause harm.”

The family wants to see the teachers terminated, LaMarr added. Superintendent Brad Saron put the teachers on administrative leave following the discovery of the assignment Monday afternoon.

The school district declined to answer questions from NBC15 on Friday, instead referring to a statement issued on Thursday. They wrote, “We also need to be crystal clear: What happened at Patrick Marsh Middle School is not aligned with our equity work. It was not approved or endorsed at any level of leadership, and does not define our commitment to and work toward racial equity.”

More parents joined in the conversation on Friday, at least 20 of them contributing to an open letter to the superintendent “on behalf of Black and Brown families.” The letter called the controversy “merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Montie Bowie and Dan Hawk, two of the main writers, laughed as they said they were unsurprised about the incident. “It was just a matter of time before another event happened,” Bowie said.

Hawk, a parent of five who has been with the district for two decades, added, “It’s just a matter of time before the next one happens.”

The letter demanded that the district terminate the current head of equity work, saying “her efforts do not show growth to support this crucial work.” Other calls to action included the creation of a formal equity department as well as support groups and HR staff dedicated to supporting Black and Brown staff.

Hawk admitted, he has seen the district address issues in the past. He continued, “In the ‘doing’ portion, nothing came to fruition. Just more talk and more talk and more talk. Talking about it isn’t making a change.”

The district says its investigation is ongoing and will update the community at the next school board meeting on Monday Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. Information can be found on the school district website.

The full statement from Teachers Pay Teachers to NBC15 reads:

“Racist or offensive material is strictly prohibited on TpT. As soon as we were made aware of this resource, we immediately removed it from the site. We take inappropriate content very seriously and expect every TpT Teacher-Author to abide by our Inappropriate Content Policy, which prohibits any resources that trivialize traumatic experiences, or disrespect, discriminate, or have the effect of marginalizing others. This resource was unacceptable, inappropriate, and antithetical to TpT’s values. We will continue to listen to our community and partner with experts in the field to continuously improve and ensure materials on TpT are appropriate, representative, and accurate.”

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