Washington school lesson on cotton gin not meant to 'harm' Black students, investigation finds

The ACLU of Washington criticized the district for how it handled the investigation

An investigation into a middle school history lesson in Washington state found no racial intent when a teacher asked her students to clean cotton – including a pair of Black twin sisters. 

Onik’a Gilliam-Cathcart, a specialist in discrimination and retaliation claims, investigated the incident at Sacajawea Middle School in Spokane. Brandi Feazell had pulled her daughters from the school after they said they felt humiliated by the lesson. 

However, Gilliam-Cathcart’s investigation determined that the teacher did not intend to "harm" the girls with the lesson, The Spokesman-Review reported

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The investigation did not, though, examine a related incident in which Assistant Principal Taylor Skidmore offered to instead remove the girls from the class if they were uncomfortable, and may have used the words "separate" or "segregate." Feazell claimed that the offer avoided the issue of addressing concerns of racism in the classroom. 

The interview was inconclusive on that matter. 

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Gilliam-Cathcart did interview several students and found that some of them had been "insensitive" about the lesson, saying around the twins that they would have "hated to be slaves and would have killed themselves." 

"Nevertheless, the reality is that the lesson was extremely hard for these 13-year-old Black students to process without warning and with the added element of insensitive classmates and lack of attunement," the report states.

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The school district will implement changes to avoid similar incidents, FOX 13 News reported

"We will need to be willing to engage in conversations that may be uncomfortable at times, but are necessary to reach our mission of ‘excellence for everyone,’" the district stated in a letter released with the report. "The United States’ history regarding race is a difficult subjective and a divisive issue in our country."

The ACLU of Washington criticized the way the district handled the investigation, saying it was irresponsible to release the report without a plan to address the "specific harmful experiences." 

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"While I understand there’s a desire to put youth in history’s shoes, we don’t give female students nooses to see what it was like right before accused witches were hung in the Salem Witch Trials, nor do we tell kids to get under a guillotine to reenact emotions (from the French Revolution)," said Kendrick Washington II of the ACLU of Washington.