‘We’re looking for accountability’: Parents of two students sue SPASD over assignment, seek $75,000 and additional training
SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. — A group of parents is suing the Sun Prairie Area School District following a virtual assignment given to students at Patrick Marsh Middle School earlier this year asking how they would punish a slave.
A press release ahead of the lawsuit being filed says attorney B’Ivory LaMarr and the parents are suing the district for pupil discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of Civil Rights, deprivation of rights, violation of the First Amendment and emotional anguish.
LaMarr says they will be seeking financial damages and a court-mandated bias training for the district.
“This is not about money,” LaMarr said. “There’s not any amount of money that would suffice for the actions these teachers conducted.”
In the lawsuit filed Friday in Dane County Court, the plaintiffs are seeking $75,000 or more in financial relief, as well as court orders forbidding independent assignments that are not first reviewed by the district, as well as requiring the district to undergo third-party diversity training and ADA training, mandating the district provide counseling services for the students affected by the assignment, and retain a neutral third party to conduct a racial harassment asssessment for each school.
The Sun Prairie Area School District said it did not have a comment on the lawsuit when contacted by News 3 Now.
The assignment was first reported to the district in February, when a parent shared a photo of the assignment online. In the screenshot, the assignment includes a prompt that reads “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?” with a box asking for the student’s response and another box that says “According to Hammurabi’s Code: put to death.”
“He had this look on his face, like I don’t want to do this,” the student’s mother told News 3 Now in February.
The student’s mother then emailed the teacher, asking what the point of the assignment was. The teacher said she did not know the assignment would be offensive and thought it would be a good point of discussion for students. The district later said their preliminary investigation found the assignment was not part of the district’s curriculum. It called the assignment a “grave error in judgment” and “not racially conscious.”
A News 3 Now investigation later found the assignment was part of a lesson plan teachers could buy online. That lesson plan has since been taken down.
“These children are suffering day after day after day,” LaMarr said. “They have crying spells, they have a severe amount of mental anguish, they’re scared to go to school, it’s affecting their social interactions, and the school needs to take responsibility for that.”
Priscilla Jones is the parent of one of the two children named in the suit, and says her son hasn’t been the same since the assignment was issued.
Priscilla Jones says her 12-year-old son George hasn’t been the same since he was made to answer this question for an assignment at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie.
Today Jones+another familed sued SPASD for 75K claiming the assignment caused emotional damage. pic.twitter.com/zmtOBaJ9NU
— Adam Duxter (@News3Adam) April 24, 2021
“He doesn’t want to go back to school, maybe hopefully Next year things will change,” she said. “But the social life, it’s rare now.”
LaMarr says he’s prepared to take the suit before a Jury should need be. SPASD now has 45 days to respond.
Earlier this month, three teachers at Patrick Marsh Middle School responsible for the assignment resigned. As part of their separation agreement with the district, they will remain on paid leave for the remainder of the school year before leaving. The teachers were originally placed on administrative leave in February.
The district says it has been working with the community on equity education and initiatives since the assignment first came to light.
“Accepting or acknowledging harm and not offering an apology is a start, but it’s not a solution,” LaMarr said. “An apology is not acceptable when a group of teachers band together and institute an assignment asking 6th graders to take the place of a slave owner and asking them ‘How would they punish this slave’.”
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