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‘I don’t know how to answer this’: Students, parents upset following racially-insensitive lesson


SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) -- On the first day of Black History Month, some students in Sun Prairie were given a racially-insensitive lesson.

Sixth graders at Patrick Marsh Middle School were presented with the scenario during a social studies lesson, which says, "A slave has disrespected his master by telling him, 'You are not my master.' How will you punish this slave?"

Zavion Hopkins was one of those students.

"I showed it to my mom, and I said, 'I don't know how to answer this,'" he said. "My mind was blown. I just stared at it for a second."

When his mom Dazarrea Ervins read the question, she was equally surprised.

"I was just taken aback," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh. Are you kidding me?'"

The question appears to be about the Code of Hammurabi -- an ancient code of law, which talked about how to punish slaves thousands of years ago.

Ervins says the students should have learned about it differently.

"'How does this make you feel? Is this right or wrong?'" she suggested. "Lost of different ways to pose this question on this time that took place and these things that took place. But to pose the question as, 'How would you punish this slave?' I mean, come on."

Priscilla Jones' son George Brockman was part of the lesson, as well.

"When I came in, he said, 'Mama, they were talking about slaves,'" Jones said, tearing up. "And then he said he thought that was over."

She said George didn't understand the assignment, and neither did she.

"Explain to me, why did you put that lesson out there?" Jones said. "And did you ever read that sentence? Did you think that would bother anybody?"

Now, she says she's having critically important conversations with her son about who he is, after finding him crying in his room.

"That hurt me so bad to even see that," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen next. I just have to have the strength and the courage to talk to my son and explain to him there isn't anything wrong with being Black, and he is not a slave."

The school district says multiple teachers are on leave right now because of this. You can read their full statement, apologizing for the lesson, right here.

Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson says he spoke to Sun Prairie's superintendent Monday. He says there needs to be a transparent investigation, and a plan -- developed with white teachers and Black families -- about how to move forward.

"A lot of times, these incidents happen, there's a statement that's put out, and nothing ever happens," he said. "This needs to stop right here today. We talk way too much in Madison about these kinds of issues, and we can't have another generation of young people having these kinds of experiences."

Johnson says the superintendent wasn't aware of the lesson until he called him.

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