A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Sun Prairie School District regarding a lawsuit filed by two Black parents. Their children’s middle school, located in Wisconsin, handed out an assignment that asked students how they would punish a slave in ancient Mesopotamia and they believed it was harmful and inappropriate.
Dazrrea Ervins and Priscilla Jones also said the Black History Month assignment in February 2021 violated their civil rights and their children’s (George Brockman and Zavion Ervins). After an internal investigation, it was discovered that three teachers devised the assignment themselves as the question was not included in the school district’s curriculum on ancient Mesopotamia.
The question appeared on a sixth-grade homework question at Patrick Marsh Middle School and was given to students on the first day of Black History Month.
“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?’” the question read. The assignment said the answer was: “According to Hammurabi’s Code: put to death.” It quickly led to led to online outrage.
The teachers were placed on administrative leave and ultimately resigned. In addition, the lawsuit also accused the school district of discriminating against Brockman for his learning disability as well as failing to protect him from racist bullying.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson, who has jurisdiction over Wisconsin’s Western District, stated the parents failed to prove that any civil rights were violated by the assignment.
Peterson also said that the parents didn’t prove that racism or the district’s lack of action had any impact on Brockman’s education.
“A reasonable jury certainly could find that its content and timing were offensive, insensitive and justifiably upset students and their families,” Peterson stated. “But a hostile environment claim requires much more than a single upsetting episode.”
Though a decision has been made in federal court, complaints that the district violated state law will be reviewed by Dane County Circuit Court.