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District places group of teachers on leave after assignment asking children how they would punish slaves

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Kicked a hornet's nest, so to speak

Photo by ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

A Wisconsin school district has suspended a "small group" of its teachers after they assigned a controversial homework assignment asking students how they would punish slaves if they were slaveowners.

According to a Tuesday Newsweek report, the incident took place on Monday, the first day of Black History Month.

What are the details?

The Sun Prairie Area School District in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, issued an apology to parents and students after a "small group" of teachers made a "grave error" in asking sixth-grade students how they would punish slaves.

The assignment, which was issued for remote learning, asked students at Patrick Marsh Middle School how they would punish a slave who "disrespected his master by telling him 'You are not my master!'"

Screenshots of the question circulated on social media on Monday.

The assignment also cited Hammurabi's Code, which said that the slave, in those times, would be put to death for their insubordination.

According to Kenosha News, the assignment's wording "matches a $4 lesson from Teachers Pay Teachers, a website where educators can buy and sell education materials."

Patrick Marsh Middle School Principal Rebecca Zahn and Associate Principal Amy Schernecker issued a joint statement following the controversy and said that the assignment was intended to "help students understand how order was kept in the early civilization, how the laws that were developed, and how unjust they were."

In a joint statement, Patrick Marsh Middle School Superintendent Brad Saron, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning, and Equity Stephanie Leonard-Witte, and Assistant Superintendent for Operations Janet Rosseter said, "We are writing today to apologize for a grave error in judgment that occurred during sixth-grade social studies instruction at Patrick Marsh Middle School."

The statement continued, "A small group of our teachers developed and used an activity that was neither racially conscious nor aligned to our district mission, vision, values, curriculum, or district equity statement."

"Once we learned of this activity, we immediately stopped any further teaching of the lesson and promptly began an investigation," the statement explained. "In our preliminary findings, we have determined the lesson was not a part of our district curriculum and therefore, no student should participate in or complete the assignment."

It concluded, "To be clear, this lesson is not consistent with the School Board's vision for this school district, our commitment to equity and cultural responsiveness, or the development opportunities we have invested in our staff."

You can see a copy of the statement via Facebook and below.

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