Students and families at a Spokane, Washington, middle school were reportedly left traumatized and outraged after a social studies teacher brought raw cotton into the classroom for students to clean.
According to KUOW-TV, the lesson was not about slavery, but the industrial revolution and the important role Eli Whitney’s cotton gin played in American economics.
Spokane Public Schools is currently working on an “equity policy,” which stems from a racial equity resolution the district passed in 2020.
What are the details?
In May, an unnamed eighth-grade social studies teacher at Sacajawea Middle School reportedly pulled out a box of raw cotton, handed it out to students, and told the children they would complete a “fun” activity to see who could clean the cotton the fastest.
Twins Emzayia and Zyeshauwne Feazell, who are 14 years old, stopped attending classes after that lesson, which reportedly left them “hurt, angry, and traumatized.”
Emzayia told KUOW-TV, “I didn’t understand why she was actually doing this as a teacher. Why she would bring a box of cotton into class.”
Zyeshauwne added, “Once I started to realize what we were actually doing, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to pay attention and listen to it anymore.”
According to the station, the twin sisters “became even more uneasy when their classmates made comments about how they would not have picked cotton if they had been enslaved.”
“They didn’t have any reaction like we did,” Emzayia insisted. “They were just OK.”
After school, the twins went home and told their mother, Brandi Feazell, about the lesson, who, in turn, immediately called the assistant principal.
“I had relayed to him at that point what my girls had described to me that transpired, and he immediately went into defense mode,” Feazell insisted. “Instead of maintaining his job and defending these children and making sure that their health and their safety, mentally and emotionally was taken care of and being their first line of defense, he did not portray any of that. He was more worried about his faculty.”
The administrator, identified by NBC News as Taylor Skidmore, reportedly told Feazell that the teacher was a “very kind and gentle soul” who would never try to hurt any students.
When Feazell told Skidmore that she planned to take the issue to the school district, he reportedly said that the “only thing he could offer me at that point was to ‘segregate’ my daughters into a room by themselves, so they ‘wouldn’t have to be around the white teacher.'”
According to the KUOW, the proposal “angered [Feazell] not just because she said he used the word ‘segregate,’ using a term from Jim Crow times, but because it seemed to her this plan punished her daughters while leaving the social studies teacher’s actions unaddressed.”
Feazell said that she was hurt and upset that the teacher wasn’t facing disciplinary action over the lesson.
The family is now reportedly working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and TeamChild to “determine the resolution they would like to see come from Spokane Public Schools.”
The family aims to prevent something like this from happening to other students in the future and demands that the district remove Skidmore from his position. The family is also seeking disciplinary action against the social studies teacher and wants a formal apology from the district.
What is the school saying?
A statement from Spokane Public Schools reads, “Spokane Public Schools recently received a complaint regarding a classroom lesson on the Industrial Revolution at Sacajawea Middle School. Upon receiving the complaint, SPS promptly solicited a third-party investigator to fully understand the situation. We will share the investigation’s findings as soon as they are available. SPS is committed to transparency, as well as making sure all our students, families, and staff feel supported and heard.”
A press release from the ACLU stated that the lesson was “intended to simulate the experience of enslaved people.”
The ACLU’s press release also quoted Feazell, who said, “As two of the only three black students in the class that day, my daughters already felt singled out during an activity that required them to clean cotton. Separating them from the rest of the class would only compound their pain and isolation and do nothing to change the racist culture and policies that led to this inappropriate and harmful lesson in the first place.”