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Black students upset by school project directing them to clean cotton

The twins said their social studies teacher took out a box of raw cotton and told the class they were going to see who could clean cotton the fastest.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A family in Spokane, Washington, is demanding that a school administrator be removed after he suggested he could segregate two Black middle school students who were directed to clean freshly picked cotton as part of a classroom assignment, according to lawyers for the family.

Taylor Skidmore, assistant principal at Sacajawea Middle School, offered to remove the 14-year-old twins from their social studies class when their mother called to raise concerns about the cotton lesson, according to a statement Wednesday from ACLU of Washington and TeamChild, a legal firm.

Mother Brandi Feazell said she was shocked at Skidmore’s suggestion to segregate her daughters from their class.

“As two of the only three Black students in the class that day, my daughters already felt singled out during an activity that required them to clean cotton,” Brandi Feazell said. “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.”

Spokane Public Schools issued a statement saying the students were learning about the industrial revolution and the cotton gin, and the incident is being investigated.

“We take all complaints very seriously and are committed to investigating them fully,” the district said. “There are conflicting reports regarding this incident.”

“Once the third-party investigation is completed, we look forward to coming back to share the outcomes,” the district said.

Image: Sacajawea Middle School
Sacajawea Middle School.Google Maps

On May 3, the twins said their fifth-period social studies teacher took out a box of raw cotton and told the class they were going to see who could clean cotton the fastest.

“The teacher kept saying, ‘We don’t need slaves anymore,’ ” one of the girls said. “That really hurt because it felt like she was saying there was a time when slavery was OK.”

The twins have been out of school since the cotton lesson and do not feel comfortable going back until the incident is addressed, their mother said.

In addition to asking that Skidmore be removed, the family wants the social studies teacher and other school administrators who failed to act promptly to face discipline.

They are also asking for a public apology from Spokane Public Schools and for anti-racism training to be implemented districtwide.

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