Sun Prairie school board officials address controversial history assignment

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 11:04 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Sun Prairie school board members broke down how they responded to the controversial homework assignment incident and their plans to address equity issues moving forward in a meeting on Monday.

“I wanted to know how this lesson was even taught on Feb. 1 because to me it totally lacked empathy,” Marilyn Ruffin, Sun Prairie board of education deputy clerk said.

The incident happened on the first day of Black History month.

“We look forward to the opportunity to be celebrated,” Ruffin said.

Sixth grade teachers at Patrick Marsh Middle School gave students an assignment that asked how they would punish a slave. The lesson focused on ancient Mesopotamia and Hammurabi’s code.

“When reading those words provide a trigger to you and a deep-rooted pain of our own history that is yet to been reckoned with,” Ruffin said.

Ruffin said the assignment goes against the district’s values.

“It undermines the security and undermines the student in their learning environment,” she said.

The incident raised questions from the community such as, was the activity approved in the district’s curriculum?

“The activity presented on Feb. 1 was not one of our district approved materials. It was a supplementary material used by the team,” Stephanie Leonard-Witte, Sun Prairie school district assistant superintendent for teaching, learning and equity said.

School officials said teachers have the authority to choose their own supplementary material, but the content must meet the district’s mission and the equity statement.

“In this case on Feb. 1, those materials do not do that,” Leonard-Witte said.

The question was pulled from a third party website called “Teachers Pay Teachers.” Those materials were later removed.

Community members also raised the question, do teachers have equity training? School officials said the answer is yes, but more work needs to be done.

“We obviously need to deepen our work around our lens for racial equity in our supplementary equity materials,” Leonard-Witte said.

Board members said the solution goes beyond the classroom.

“How are we going to show forth what this district stands for? This is not just a school issue. It’s a community wide issue,” Ruffin said.

The district plans to have restorative circles for students and staff to create a space for understanding and healing.

The teachers involved are on administrative leave while the investigation continues.

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