A high school teacher in the New York City suburbs reportedly started the first day of school with a handout that includes a political cartoon collage comparing police officers to slave owners and Ku Klux Klan members.
According to New York Post, the handout containing the cartoon was distributed on Sept. 8 to 11th graders at Westlake High School in Westchester County. The five-panel cartoon shows the progression from slave ship captain to Klansman to modern-day police officer, all pressing their knee into the neck of a black man who is saying “I can’t breathe,” an apparent reference to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
Three passages are featured in the handout alongside the cartoon, with one connecting George Floyd’s death to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, another about lawmakers of colonial-era Virginia codifying racial distinctions after black slaves joined poor whites in an armed rebellion, and the other claiming that “systemic racism” in U.S. criminal justice system disproportionately victimizes black men.
The handout moves on to ask students to explain the relationships between those passages and images and describe “the goals of Black Lives Matter movement.” Students are also asked whether or not they agreed with the movement.
Ania Paternostro, the mother of a student at Westlake High, told the New York Post that she immediately wrote to school and district leaders to complain about the handout.
“My daughter showed me the paper. I said, ‘What is this?! You’ve got to be kidding me!’” Paternostro said, calling the cartoon “disturbing.”
“We have to respect the men in blue who protect us. We don’t need a teacher brainwashing my kids. I’ll teach my kids about what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Paternostro, whose daughter allegedly suffered from cyber bullying for blowing the whistle about the handout.
Westlake High School and Mount Pleasant School District have not responded to requests for comments. Mount Pleasant Superintendent Kurt Kotes, however, acknowledged in a letter to parents that the handout is “highly controversial in the current climate” and promised that the district will be conducting “a thorough investigation to determine what exactly occurred in this particular classroom and what, if any, action is to be taken under the circumstances to appropriately address the matter.”
The controversy came weeks after the same cartoon, created by Ohio-based cartoonist David Fitzsimmons, appeared in an 8th grade social studies assignment in a Texas school district.
“It’s the opposite of what must be taught,” the Republican governor wrote on Twitter. “The teacher should be fired. I’m asking the Texas Education Agency to investigate and take action.”