‘It’s saddening, it’s hurtful and it’s disrespectful’: Mother calls out lesson asking how sixth graders would punish slaves

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. – Instead of a clear answer, a virtual assignment Monday left sixth-grader Zayvion Hopkins and his mother with more questions.

“He had this look on his face, like I don’t want to do this,” said Zayvion’s mother, Dazarrea Ervins.

Zayvion said the assignment given to his class at Patrick Marsh Middle School within the Sun Prairie Area School District focused on ancient Mesopotamia and King Hammurabi’s Code, with one scenario that posed this question: “A slave stands before you. This slave has disrespected his master by telling him ‘You are not my master!’ How will you punish this slave?”

“I saw the question, I didn’t know how to answer,” Zayvion said. “I sat and looked at it.”

“I was like, ‘What the heck?’” Ervins said. “It’s very offensive and it’s inappropriate and I feel like it’s ignorant.”

For Zayvion and his mom, the only right answer was to reach out to the teacher.

“If I was in class, I would feel unsafe,” Zayvion said.

Ervins said the teacher originally told her she would remove the assignment.

“She decided to change her mind and say the assignment will be left up and she feels it’s a great talking point for the children,” Ervins said. “It’s concerning for me. I have four Black children, Black boys, I’m raising in the Sun Prairie School district, and to see this on Black History Month.”

“I didn’t believe it was real, to be honest with you,” said Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. He saw Ervins’ Facebook post about the assignment and called the district’s superintendent.

First day of Black History Month and this was issued to my 6th grader at Patrick Marsh Middle School!!! 🤬😡
Patrick Marsh Middle School:

608-834-7601

Posted by Dazarrea Jessica Lee Ervins on Monday, February 1, 2021

“For this to happen on the first day of Black History Month, given all the training I’ve been told teachers have gone through, I think this was bad judgment,” Johnson said. “I was surprised it was multiple teachers involved. Someone should’ve been able to see this and say from their cultural competency lens that this is unacceptable.”

In a statement, district leaders apologized for the assignment, calling it a “grave error in judgment” and not “racially conscious” or part of the curriculum.

“We deeply regret that this lesson took place, and we also recognize that this was a breakdown in our curricular processes and our district-wide focus on equity,” the statement said.

They said the “small group of teachers” who developed the activity are on administrative leave as they investigate. They said they’re following up with involved students, examining teaching practices and planning to work with Black community leaders moving forward.

Ervins hopes this will be a learning moment.

“I’m hoping that teachers take this as an example, everyone takes this as an example honestly,” Ervins said. “It’s a lesson to be learned here, and a huge one.”