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Judge: School’s slavery punishment assignment doesn’t violate rights

A federal judge has sided with a Wisconsin middle school that a Black History Month assignment on how they would "punish" a slave did not violate civil rights.
Patrick Marsh Middle School
Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, Wisc.Google Maps
/ Source: Associated Press

A federal judge is siding with the Sun Prairie School District in a lawsuit filed by two Black parents who objected to their children’s middle school assignment that asked students how they would punish a slave in ancient Mesopotamia.

Dazrrea Ervins and Priscilla Jones claimed the Black History Month assignment in February 2021 violated their civil rights as well as those of their children, Zavion Ervins and George Brockman.

The question was not part of the school district’s curriculum on ancient Mesopotamia. Three teachers came up with the assignment on their own, according to an internal investigation. The teachers were placed on administrative leave and later resigned, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Along with complaints about the assignment, the lawsuit also accused the district of discriminating against Brockman for his learning disability and failing to protect him from racist bullying.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson, in Wisconsin’s Western District, said the parents failed to show evidence that their civil rights or those of their children were violated by the assignment.

“A reasonable jury certainly could find that its content and timing were offensive, insensitive and justifiably upset students and their families,” Peterson wrote. “But a hostile environment claim requires much more than a single upsetting episode.”

The parents didn’t provide evidence that the racism or the district’s inaction had any impact on Brockman’s education, Peterson also said.

With a decision on the case in federal court, complaints that the district violated state law will now go back to Dane County Circuit Court.

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