Black teens subjected to ‘cotton-picking’ lesson at Washington school sparks probe

The incident reportedly happened on May 3, when the girls’ social studies teacher at Sacajawea Middle School in Spokane came to the class with a box of raw cotton and told students they were going to participate in a 'fun' activity


                            Black teens subjected to ‘cotton-picking’ lesson at Washington school sparks probe
After the teens complained about the incident, the school allegedly offered to 'segregate' them (Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

SPOKANE, WASHINGTON: Two Black teenage girls have alleged that they were unnecessarily subjected to humiliation in May when they were asked by a teacher to clean cotton as part of a classroom assignment in school. According to reports, when the mother of the twin 14-year-old girls -- Emzayia and Zyeshauwne Feazell -- Brandi Feazell complained about that, the school offered to “segregate” them.

The alleged incident reportedly happened on May 3, when the girls’ social studies teacher at Sacajawea Middle School came to the class with a box of raw cotton and told the students that they were going to participate in a “fun” activity. Emzayia told local television station KXLY, “I was shocked that a teacher would bring a box of cotton into a class and tell them to pick it clean so she could teach us how slaves were back then.” The teens also claimed that they were the only Blacks in the class and felt bad, especially when they overheard White students making fun of them.

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Zyeshauwne told the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which is helping the family in the matter, “The teacher kept saying, ‘We don’t need slaves anymore’. That really hurt, because it felt like she was saying there was a time when slavery was OK.” Emzayia mentioned, “We didn’t learn about the slave trade or anything about the history of slavery. The lesson made it seem like enslaved people existed just to pick and clean cotton.” It has been said the cotton activity was part of a unit about industrial economics, factory systems, and trade unions.

However, when Brandi took the issue to the school’s administration, a Sacajawea administrator proposed to separate them from the class. “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,” the mother stated as per the ACLU. She also added that the school’s principal assistant, Taylor Skidmore, defended the teacher and said the teacher was the “kindest, gentlest person.”

Now, the girls’ mother is demanding a change in policy and curriculum along with the dismissal of Skidmore and the social studies teacher. “They are also asking for a formal, public apology from Spokane Public Schools and for anti-racism training to be implemented districtwide,” a statement released by the ACLU of Washington noted.

Meanwhile, the district is taking the help of a third-party investigator in the matter. Sandra Jarrard, the district’s director of communications, said, “There are conflicting reports as to this incident. The students were learning about the Industrial Revolution and the cotton gin was discussed. But we take these complaints very seriously, and once the third-party investigation is completed, we look forward to coming back to share the outcome.”

Also, a statement from Spokane Public Schools released to 4 News Now noted, “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.”

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