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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Spokane Public Schools investigating industrial revolution lesson at Sacajawea that parent says was racist

UPDATED: Wed., June 2, 2021

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Public Schools is looking into allegations that two Black students at Sacajawea Middle School were unnecessarily subjected to humiliation last month when a teacher directed them to clean cotton as part of a classroom assignment.

Their mother, Brandi Feazell of Spokane, responded by removing her 14-year-old twins, Emzayia and Zyeshauwne Feazell, from Sacajawea following the May 3 incident.

They have not returned to school since.

Feazell is demanding policy and curriculum changes, as well as the removal of Sacajawea Assistant Principal Taylor Skidmore, who reportedly offered to separate the girls from the rest of the class during that segment.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the district acknowledged receiving a complaint “regarding a classroom lesson on the Industrial Revolution at Sacajawea Middle School.”

The district has hired a third-party investigator.

“There are conflicting reports as to this incident,” said Sandra Jarrard, the district’s director of communications. “The students were learning about the Industrial Revolution and the cotton gin was discussed.

“But we take these complaints very seriously, and once the third-party investigation is completed, we look forward to coming back to share the outcome.”

On May 3, according to Feazell, her daughters said their fifth-period social studies teacher took out a box of raw cotton and told the class they were going to do a “fun” activity to see who could clean cotton the fastest.

The girls said they felt embarrassed and angry during the lesson, especially when they overheard white students making derogatory comments, Feazell told the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

“The teacher kept saying, ‘We don’t need slaves anymore,’ ” Zyeshauwne Feazell said, according to the ACLU.

“That really hurt, because it felt like she was saying there was a time when slavery was OK.”

The lesson was part of a unit about industrial economics, factory systems and trade unions.

After Feazell called to complain, she said a Sacajawea administrator offered to separate the girls from the rest of the class.

“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,” Feazell said, according to the ACLU.

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