Students learn 'how to pick cotton'—black twins refuse to go back to class

"I didn't understand why she was actually doing this as a teacher," Emzayia said, "why she would bring a box of cotton into class."

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA

A middle school teacher in Washington State taught a lesson on cotton picking during an 8th grade social studies class last month. Now, the only two black students who were in the class are refusing to return to the classroom after the lesson left them uncomfortable.

Two are twins who attend Sacajawea Middle School in Spokane, WA. Emzayia and Zyeshauwne Feazell said that during an 8th grade social studies class their teacher had the students clean cotton during a lesson on Industrial economics. They say the lesson left them feeling hurt and traumatized, according to KUOW.

"I didn't understand why she was actually doing this as a teacher," Emzayia said, "why she would bring a box of cotton into class."

Zyeshauwne said it took a moment for her to fully register what was happening. "Once I started to realize what we were actually doing, I didn't like it," Zyeshauwne said. "I didn't want to pay attention and listen to it anymore."

They twins say their white classmates made comments about how they wouldn't have picked cotton if they were enslaved, which led to them feeling more uneasy. "They didn’t have any reaction like we did," Emzayia said. "They were just okay."

Brandi Feazell, the twins mother, said tensions escalated when she contacted the school and spoke to the assistant principal to detail her daughters' experiences. "I had relayed to him at that point, what my girls had described to me that transpired, and he immediately went into defense mode," Brandi Feazell said.

"Instead of maintaining his job, and defending these children, and making sure that their health and their safety, mentally and emotionally was taken care of, and being their first line of defense; he did not portray any of that. He was more worried about his faculty."

Brandi Feazell said the assistant principal defended the social studies teacher's actions and called her a "very kind and gentle soul," insisting the teacher would never intentionally cause discomfort as she has black family members.

The students' mother threatened to handle the situation with the school district. "He called me back a few minutes later, and had told me that only thing he could offer me at that point was to 'segregate' my daughters into a room by themselves, so they 'wouldn't have to be around the white teacher,'" Brandi Feazell said.

The two students at Sacajawea Middle School said the assistant principal's comments were backwards and hurtful. "I was hurt, because we weren’t the ones that did something wrong," Emzayia said. "She was the one giving us cotton, the one telling us to do it, and yet she’s not getting in trouble."

Spokane Public Schools released an emailed statement which said: "Spokane Public Schools recently received a complaint regarding a classroom lesson on the Industrial Revolution at Sacajawea Middle School. Upon receiving the complaint, SPS promptly solicited a third-party investigator to fully understand the situation. We will share the investigation’s findings as soon as they are available. SPS is committed to transparency, as well as making sure all our students, families, and staff feel supported and heard."

Brandi Feazell says she refuses to send her daughters back to school until the school develops a safety plan; which includes the students not returning to the teacher’s classroom, KUOW reports.

The Feazell family is working with the ACLU of Washington, and non-profit called TeamChild, to determine their legal course of action against Spokane Public Schools.

"Right from the beginning, the family was very clear that they just wanted to ensure that this sort of thing did not happen again, to any other children," Washington said, the youth policy counsel at the ACLU of Washington.

According to KUOW, the family is asking the school district to fire the principal assistant and to discipline the girls’ social studies teacher. They are also asking for Spokane Public Schools to issue a formal apology.

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