Sun Prairie Area School District addresses racially-insensitive assignment about slavery, commits to creating anti-racist instructional framework

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. — It’s been one week since multiple Patrick Marsh Middle School sixth-grade classes were presented with an assignment that the district has called “a grave error in judgement.”

The question read, “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?”

On Monday night, Sun Prairie Area School District leaders addressed the incident, answering the question many parents have been asking: how did this happen?

“In this case, the activity presented on February 1st was not one of our district-approved instructional materials. It was a supplementary material,” said Stephanie Leonard-Witte, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Equity.

The three Patrick Marsh teachers who used this assignment got it from a company called Teachers Pay Teachers. It was also used in other classrooms across the country.

Leonard-Witte explained that teachers are allowed to use other materials, but they must first think about if it meets the district’s mission, vision and equity statement. She said this assignment did not.

Earlier in the day, Superintendent Brad Saron released a statement in response to an open community letter demanding Leonard-Witte be fired. He said that would not happen, and pointed to years of work she has done to promote equity.

“Please accept our assurance of our ongoing dedication for racial equity, with support from the highest levels of leadership in this school district,” Saron said during the meeting.

District leaders said they are working to engage with the community more, partnering with the YWCA to create “restorative circles” for Patrick Marsh teachers and sixth grade students.

They also committed to developing a system-wide anti-racist culturally responsive instructional framework and, at the request of the African American Parent Network, hiring a district staff member to focus specifically on equity and engagement by July 1 of this year.

The Social Studies committee will also reconvene to review curriculum.

The teachers involved in the incident remain on leave as the investigation is conducted by a third party attorney.  The district plans to update the community on the conclusion of the investigation.